Frida Kahlo: Trauma, Abjection, and Affect

Artworks: What the Water Gave Me

In Frida Kahlo: Pain and Passion, Kettenman describes What the Water Gave Me (1938) as a symbolic artwork that depicts Kahlo’s life as well as a work that integrates small details from her previous works. This work could then be considered a collage of all that she has done and what has inspired her. It is a reminder of time and of childhood games in the bathtub, but at the same time, it is reminiscent of sadness in her life. Kettenman also suggests that even though her images include surreal and fantastical elements, she cannot be considered as a Surrealist because she does not detach completely from reality: “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality – Frida Kahlo”. Included in the artwork are at least twelve elements from her other artworks:
As I look at the painting, I can feel her, Kahlo. Surely a lot of people can identify with What the Water Gave Me. To expose your entire life in a painting, for the world to see proves to be courageous and I admire her for that. What makes it such a painfully beautiful painting is the sincerity in revealing her life to an audience, some of whom could relate and others that look on dismally. I feel that Kahlo started to discover herself in this painting, and, while a close examination of the components has caused me a certain discomfort, the blatant honesty retorts in a fantastical way. In which case, euphoria overwhelms my senses more than the disgust at the crack of blood, or the musty, sour smell that consumes me at the sight of death and the fear at the volcanic explosion and eerie facial expressions. I feel in awe of the artist, her brave efforts to put herself on trial and, to some extent, extort herself to tell her story invigorate me. Even though I have never experienced anything close to what Kahlo has, her aggressive visual imagery makes me feel her pain, there is a sensation that I find difficult to describe, a sort of tingling feeling as if there were worms crawling beneath the surface of my skin along with heartbreak, fascination, remorse and… jouissance.


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