Surreal Mexico: The Symbolic Fashions of Frida Kahlo
October 6, 2011
A Brief History
(July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954)
As both a talented artist and a fascinating historical figure, Frida Kahlo has captured the hearts and imagination of countless people far beyond her home country of Mexico. Her myriad of self-portraits feature a fascinating blend of symbolism, color, joy, and pain along with her famous unibrow, mustache, and elaborate costumes. She chose to emphasize these usually shunned features, defying the conventional idea that woman in art should always be soft, perfect, and lovely. Many of her works deal with the conflict between the two sides of her heritage: the proper, corseted Edwardian side, heavily influenced by Anglo culture; and the native Mexican side filled with tropical foliage, flowers, and jungle creatures. Her style is surreal and haunting.
Her life is just a wild, strange, and tantalizing as her art. When polio shrived one of her legs at age six, she started to wear long, colorful skirts to hide it, beginning a life-long foray into the highly personal style depicted in her paintings. Later, she would reject feminine dresses and skirts, and often appeared in family portraits in a man’s suit.Her life spans the periods from late Victorian to Mid-Century Retro. In Mexico, however, these fashion periods are less rigid than they are elsewhere in the United States and Europe, and Frida often took her own liberties with fashion. She was her own person in every sense and rarely allowed current trends to suffocate her personal tastes.
When she was a teenager, tragedy struck. As she was riding in a bus when it smashed headlong into a trolley car. The crash left her bedridden in a body cast, and though she recovered, she suffered crippling bouts of pain for the rest of her life. To ease her discomfort, it is said that her father hung a mirror above her bed and it is from that that she begin to paint her poignant self-portraits.
Cultural Influences: Traditional
The fashions Frieda depicted combine tradition Spanish and Indian costumes from her native Mexico with Edwardian and Deco influences from the United States and Europe. She was highly individual and rarely confined herself to trendy attire.
Some of her outfits are surreal constructions of bandages, lacing, and leaves. Many portraits reveal the physical and emotion pain she suffered, exposing ribs , dangling hearts, and gushing veins through cracked chests.
The hairstyles in Frida’s work are often the vehicle for her emotions, revealing internal conflicts that rest of painting may not. Her hairstyles vary widely but fall mainly into two popular turn-of-the-century Mexican styles: the slicked back, braided bun and loose, natural hair flowing behind. She often adorned her hair with mounds of flowers, twists of fabric, or just a few ribbons to whisk her bangs back.
Frida adored large pieces of jewelry, both in real life and in her paintings. She usually shunned popular, delicate fine jewelry, choosing instead bold necklaces crafted by native artists or droplet earrings. Sometimes she wore no jewelry at all, allowing she striking features to be the only adornment she needed.
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