Frida Kahlo: on Deconstructing Feminine Realities and Confronting Maternal Taboos

Frida Kahlo: On Deconstructing Femininity and Confronting Maternal Taboos

A Research Essay by Faustina Sari Setiawan
Student ID: 250648508
VAH 2287F - Sexuality in Modern Visual Culture
Prof. Marielle Aylen
Frida Kahlo: On Deconstructing Femininity and Confronting Maternal Taboos

“I paint flowers so they will not die” - perfectly encapsulates the Frida Kahlo’s way of coping with the paradoxical hardships of both childbirth and child-loss, in addition to her struggles of being a female artist, by using art as a medium. Many controversies have arisen with regards to Kahlo’s art, with some going as far as to argue that they are merely empty by-products of surreal artistic portrayals of self-serving narcissism. This essay aims to argue that Kahlo served as an integral character in revolutionizing the feminist movement within art history by openly blurring the lines of gender conventions, candidly portraying the then-censored hardships of maternity and the truthful expression of her own bisexuality. During a time whereby representations of feminism or the empowerment of feminine bodies in art were almost unseen or unheard of, as a Mexican female artist living in America in the late 1920s and 30s, Kahlo has successfully defied gender norms and changed the portrayals of femininity within the art world by bringing crucial feminist issues into light, instead of purposefully avoiding them.
Kahlo successfully challenges gender norms by embodying gender ambiguity “in her art, the way she dressed, and also the way she carried herself”. Taking the way she dresses as an example, Kahlo assimilated conventional ideals of femininity in the beautiful dresses and flowers she often donned herself in with traditionally masculine traits, such as her iconic unibrow and her refusal to shave her upper-lip hair. She breaks old-aged gender conventions further by unabashedly behaving in ways that were considered almost unthinkable for women, as she “liked to drink, smoke, and say...