Self Portraits of a Lonely Woman

I’ve had an attraction to Frida Kahlo the person and Frida Kahlo the artist for a lot of my adult life.

There was something about her unapologetic unibrow and strong sense of feminism in a heavily masculine culture and time in history.  More recently, she’s made a come back as a cultural icon and I was easily sucked into what she stands for.  I visited her blue house in Mexico City, enamored with her self portraits, politics, clothes, and how strong she was despite a life full of pain from an accident when she was a young woman.

Frida’s house in Mexico City, 2017.

So when I heard an exhibit full of her and Diego Rivera’s (her husband) paintings were coming to Denver, I tracked the tickets for months. Seeing when they’d be available and making sure we were available to be online and hitting the purchase button.  Thankfully to Dan’s sharp fingers, we snagged a couple of tickets for a Saturday in October.  

A few days before exhibit, the COVID numbers began to rise. Denver decided to limit the amount of people that could be in public spaces. I was sure our visit to the museum would be cancelled and was heartbroken. In a year of heartbreaks, I really needed this one win. Thankfully, the museum didn’t end up cancelling and we received a notification that our tickets were still valid! We masked up and headed to Denver.

During the exhibit, I saw the piece “Me and My Doll” (see cover photo) painted in 1937.  And it took my breath away.

I assume people see it and think it’s creepy, haunting, and out there, like many of her paintings on first glance to someone who doesn’t understand her style or backstory.  But I felt a strong sense of belonging, understanding and camaraderie. So, I veered straight for the painting. I continued to read the adjacent plaque that described how Frida began collecting dolls and pets because of her inability to have children.  She suffered multiple miscarriages due to her accident (that I mentioned above) which probably caused damage to her uterus. I knew this information about her but never connected to it until seeing this artwork.

Frida experienced so much in her life and had so many achievements. Her incredible life ended too early due to health complications but I wonder if she continuously felt that isolation and disconnection the self portrait exudes. Through all of her triumphs, her pains, her marriage with Diego, her subsequent works of art. Did she constantly feel that empty, blank room in front of her? Did that doll that she purchased to help fill the void or end up being a symbol of mockery? Did she become indifferent to it all? Did she move on?

Those of us who experience infertility feel that same emptiness and loneliness even now, almost 100 years later. There is nothing that can fully fill that void; whether it’s a doll, a promotion at work, 20 episodes of the show Parenthood. But sometimes, realizing unexpectedly that someone else has understood you, has experienced your same emotions, and has lived this admirable life, makes it all a little more momentarily bearable.

I ended up purchasing a print of that photo in the museum gift shop and it sits on my nightstand.

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can”.
– Frida Kahlo.

Me with the “Self Portrait with Monkeys” at the DAM, 2020.

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