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[Margaret a. lindauer,_frida_kahlo]_devouring_frid(


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the only real way to obsess about frida

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[Margaret a. lindauer,_frida_kahlo]_devouring_frid(

  1. 1. title : Devouring Frida : The Art History and Popular Celebrity of Frida Kahlo author : Lindauer, Margaret A.; Kahlo, Frida. publisher : Wesleyan University Press isbn10 | asin : 081956348X print isbn13 : 9780819563484 ebook isbn13 : 9780585370927 language : English subject Kahlo, Frida--Criticism and interpretation. publication date : 1999 lcc : ND259.K33L56 1999eb ddc : 759.972 subject : Kahlo, Frida--Criticism and interpretation. Page iii Devouring Frida The Art History and Popular Celebrity of Frida Kahlo Margaret A. Lindauer Page iv Wesleyan University Press Published by University Press of New England Hanover, NH 03755 © 1999 by Margaret A. Lindauer All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America 5 4 3 2 1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Lindauer, Margaret A. Devouring Frida : the art history and popular celebrity of Frida Kahlo / by Margaret A. Lindauer. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-8195-6347-1 (cloth : alk. paper). ISBN 0-8195-6348-X (pbk : alk. paper) 1. Kahlo, FridaCriticism and interpretation. I. Kahlo, Frida.
  2. 2. II. Title. ND259.K33L56 1999 759.972dc21 98-47641 Page v To Karen and Jennifer Page vii Contents List of Illustrations ix Preface xi Introduction: Rereading Frida Kahlo 1 Frida as a Wife/Artist in Mexico 13 Frida of the Blood-Covered Paint Brush 54 The Language of the Missing Mother 86 Unveiling Politics 114 Fetishizing Frida 150 Notes 181 Bibliography 201 Index 209 Page ix Illustrations 1. Frida and Diego Rivera, 1931 14 2. Henry Ford Hospital, 1932 21 3. Insurrection Ballad of the Proletarian Revolution, "Distributing Arms," Mural by Diego 24 Rivera, 1928 4. Today and Tomorrow: Modern Mexico Mural by Diego Rivera, 1934 32 5. A Few Small Nips, 1935 33 6. Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Leon Trotsky), 1937 36 7. Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940 41 8. Two Nudes in a Forest, 1939 47 9. Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Señor Xólotl, 50 1949
  3. 3. 10. The Broken Column, 1944 57 11. Without Hope, 1945 70 12. The Little Deer, 1946 73 13. Tree of Hope, 1946 74 14. Self-Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill, 1951 81 15. My Birth, 1932 89 16. Tlazolteotl 92 17. My Nurse and I, 1937 96 18. Self-Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States, 1932 117 Page x 19. My Dress Hangs There, 1933 118 20. Four Inhabitants of Mexico, 1938 134 21. Remembrance of an Open Wound, 1938 141 22. The Two Fridas, 1939 145 23. Self-Portrait as Tehuana, 1943 153 24. Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940 165 25. Mexico: Thirty Centuries of Splendors billboard 175 26. Self-Portrait with Monkeys, 1943 177 Page xi Preface In the mid-1980s, when I first read a biographic account of Frida Kahlo, I was inspired but also vaguely unsettled by the tragic-heroic narrative. At the time, I was a master of fine arts student, and my sense of inspiration undoubtedly related to my continuing project of rediscovering forgotten women. My uneasiness was more difficult to explain. Although it was tiresome to hear Kahlo's life incessantly reduced to psychosexual tragedy, I did not yet have a sufficient feminist and cultural theory vocabulary to enable me to analyze the construction of the artist. For years I noted the increasing circulation of Kahlo's story and self-portraits, but without the theoretical framework through which to consider the phenomenon, it remained intriguing, albeit disconcerting. Upon completing my MFA, I went to work as the exhibits curator at Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology, where I was immersed in issues of representation and authority related to the production of museum exhibitions. Because the graduate classroom was the most satisfying environment in which to consider the endless implications of putting objects, cultures, and histories on display, I decided to complete a master of art in art history. During my program of study, the Metropolitan Museum of Art traveled its blockbuster exhibition Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries, for which one of Kahlo's self-portraits was reproduced as an advertisement on billboards and in museum brochures and magazines. Mexico epitomized the superficiality with which such exhibitions tend to represent complex histories and transnational relationships, and I found it was a prime subject for poststructural analysis. As I considered its representations of Mexico in terms of the presentation of Kahlo's paintings, I began to think more critically about the uneasiness with which I simultaneously was enthralled and wearied by interpretations of the artist's life and work. With encouragement from J. Gray Sweeney, I continued writing about Kahlo's work despite being advised that there already was a glut of essays and manuscripts about the artist's life and work. I am grateful to Corrine Page xii
  4. 4. Schleif for helping me to consider the ways in which the popular celebrity of Frida Kahlo complies with the art history of Frida Kahlo. And, thanks to Julie Codell's brilliant command of feminist, semiotic, and critical literary theory, I finally was able to analyze the complex social, cultural, and political structures through which Kahlo's life has been recalled and recounted. Thus I began working on a master's thesis incorporating alternative interpretations of Kahlo's paintings that resist reducing the artist to an icon of tragedy and triumph. Following that project I began developing this deeper analysis of the historical context in which Kahlo worked. Without the stimulating conversations with Nancy Mahaney and Julie Katz, I would not have sustained the subsequent years of reading, writing, and revising. As the manuscript developed into its current form, Arturo Aldama graciously agreed to read a portion of it and offered valuable suggestions for ways to enrich my interpretations. With support from Suzanna Tamminen and in response to comments by anonymous reviewers, my initially vague yet unsettling feeling toward the narrative of Kahlo's life has been articulated as an analysis of representation. I could not have obtained permission to reproduce Kahlo's work without generous assistance from Dulce Aldama, to whom I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude. I am indebted to Mary Crittendon for her editorial work. And, finally, I thank Owen Lindauer for encouraging me throughout this and other projects. M.A.L. Page 1 Introduction: Rereading Frida Kahlo In the early 1970s Frida Kahlo was only known as a subject for interpretation and admiration among a small academic and artworld audience. Films, exhibitions, and publications produced in the 1970s and early 1980s generated the shift, in the United States, from seeing Kahlo as unsung artist to Frida as venerated heroine. Among her biographers and admirers she is referred to simply as Frida, which indicates the mythologizing of the artist but also imparts a sense of intimate familiarity between painter and admirers. By 1991 when New York's Metropolitan Museum used one of Kahlo's self-portraits to advertise the traveling exhibition Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries on billboards, in newspapers, and within museums, Kahlo's popularity had reached "cult" status, and her notoriety permeated United States popular culture. 1 The so-called Frida-look was copied in high fashion magazines and look-alike contests; museum gift shops offered postcards, T-shirts, and jewelry incorporating Kahlo's self-portraits; and specialty shops commemorating Kahlo's life and work sold Frida nail polish, Frida shoes, and Frida clothing. Also in 1991, Madonna, the popular singer/performer, repeatedly broadcast her admiration for Kahlo, her purchase of two Kahlo paintings, and her plans to play the lead role in a new film about the artist. Madonna's self-promoted idolization further advanced Kahlo's name in a popular realm represented by such magazines as Vanity Fair, Style, and Mirabella. Since then, several photography exhibitions on Kahlo have been produced; a number of new monographs and essays about the artist have been published; and a flurry of Kahlo-inspired paintings, performances, films, and musicals have been created by several other artists. Edward Sullivan explains that Kahlo has attained such celebrity status, which goes far beyond the success she enjoyed during her lifetime and is astounding when compared to the obscurity that followed her death, because she is "a role model for many peoplefeminists, lesbians, gay men and others who were searching for a herosomeone to validate their struggle to find their own voice and their own public personalities. Page 2 Frida, as a woman of personal and aesthetic strength and courage, met that need.'' 2 Although Sullivan's judgment is valid, it begs further analysis. Why do those who are "searching for a hero," who "struggle to find their own voice," celebrate Kahlo? What specifically about her lifeor, more accurately, the way her life has been recountedconstitutes the "strength and courage" that politically disenfranchised or marginalized groups admire? Through what assumptions and ideologies has the artist been venerated? And in what ways has the mythic Frida, as "a role model," affected the representation of "feminists, lesbians, gay men and others" within hegemonic United States culture? This book responds to these questions by analyzing the language of interpretation and veneration through which the popular persona "Frida Kahlo" has been constructed. I examine Kahlo's self-portraits for references to political and cultural complexities incorporated in the production and reception of her paintings. And I investigate the processes through which, and the implications of how, the artist has been idolized. Her posthumous transformation from forgotten painter to celebrated heroine has cast her as numerous, sometimes contradictory, characters. She is renowned for her devastatingly unfilled desire for children and also for her overt challenges to bourgeois social/sexual expectations. She sometimes is described as a politically involved nationalist but also as Diego Rivera's devoted wife, who parroted her husband's political opinions. She is variously held as a "great" artist but also is noted for the strictly personal references of her paintings. She is recognized for her involvement in campaigns for women's and minority rights although her behavior was characterized by an obsession to arouse men's libidos with her theatrical costumes and flirtatious behavior. Each of these descriptions has developed alongside interpretations of her self-portraits, which, in turn, correlate the temporal point of production to events in the artist's life as documented in Kahlo's letters and diary and through the recollections of colleagues and acquaintances. For example, Kahlo produced Henry Ford Hospital in 1932 shortly after a life-threatening miscarriage. The painting is considered to illustrate the artist's mourning for her aborted child and despair over her apparent physical inability to carry a child to term. This one-to-one association of life events to the meaning of a painting follows the paradigmatic art history model described by Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson; the "purpose of art-historical narration is to merge the authorized corpus and its producer into a single entity, the totalized narrative of the-man-and-his-work, in which the rhetorical figure author=corpus governs the narration down to its finest details."3 My analyses of Kahlo's paintings disrupt the author=corpus narrative by probing the relationship among the artist's paintings and the social Page 3
  5. 5. constructs that extend beyond the events of her personal life. While I do not dispute the scholarship behind the production of Kahlo's biographies, represented most thoroughly in Hayden Herrera's 1983 Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, my analysis recognizes that any biography, like an interpretation of a painting, is not discovered but produced. I use the term "biography" in reference to publications about Kahlo's life ranging from popular to academic, celebratory to analytical, captious to venerate. An entrenched narrative of suffering permeates the telling of her life. While considering the representation of Kahlo that has emerged from the combined efforts of researchers, filmmakers, artists, and ardent admirers, it is crucial to keep in mind that Kahlo's life, like any biography, is recounted so that a chronology is made into a cohesive narrative by concentrating on events, and associations among events. Tautologically, selected events become relevant as a persona emerges from an investigation of historical evidence, including letters, diaries, exhibition reviews, interviews, and paintings. Kahlo's character development and life story have been produced simultaneously, in accordance with one another, in such a way that various social classificationsnationalist, invalid, rebel, hypochondriac, lesbian, adoring wife, childless mother, sexually desired object, antibourgeois, communistare seen as being illustrated in her paintings. Furthermore, among biographies of Kahlo, and therefore throughout interpretations of her paintings that emulate the author=corpus model, these classifications generally revolve around two core aspects of her life, her tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera and the interminable deterioration of her body. Kahlo's own words from a 1951 newspaper interview have been cited consistently to support the centrality of these circumstances. She remorsed, "I have suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar ran over me. . . . The other accident is Diego." 4 The streetcar accident refers to the horrifying, life-threatening 1925 accident in which an iron handrail impaled Kahlo's torso, causing extensive injuries and lifelong physical complications. The Rivera "accident" alludes to Kahlo's anguish over his notorious womanizing. Thus her statement is taken as evidence that her life was emotionally and physically torturous, and her paintings accordingly are interpreted as documents of her pain. It is tempting to condense Kahlo's life into a narrative of emotional and physical health, first because biographers' interviews with the artist's colleagues and acquaintances bind significant events, passions, and idiosyncratic characteristics of the artist's life to her marriage and/or illnesses. And second, it allows for a heroic/tragic drama. Because Kahlo's life has been recounted as a litany of physical and psychological symptoms, she is revered for her "triumph" in creating art despite the "torment" of bodily Page 4 and emotional injury. A pervasive torment/triumph approach can be gleaned from a cursory glance at monograph and essay titles: Andrea Kettenmann's Frida Kahlo: Pain and Passion; Malka Drucker's Frida Kahlo: Torment and Triumph in Her Life and Art; Martha Zamora's Brush of Anguish; Nancy Breslow's "Cry of Joy and Pain"; Hayden Herrera's "Frida Kahlo: The Palette, the Pain and the Painter"; and Gloria Orenstein's "Painting for Miracles." (There are notable exceptions to the preponderant heroic/tragic interpretations of Kahlo, which are cited in subsequent chapters and from which many of my ideas have developed.) While recognizing Kahlo's resilience fosters admiration, it also implicitly solemnizes the tribulations of her life so that celebrating her strength simultaneously and necessarily evokes sympathy for her pain. Accordingly, Herrera evaluates Kahlo's entire oeuvre, and her late-twentiethcentury popularity, in terms of bipolarities subsumed within the overarching battle between surrendering to pain and struggling for survival: There is the tension created by Kahlo's festive, becostumed exterior and her anguished interior. There is a split between her mask of control and the turmoil that thrashed inside her head. Even as she presented herself as a heroine, she insisted that we know her vulnerability. And while she was compelled to see herself and to be truly seen, she hid behind the mythic creature she invented to help her withstand life's blows. . . . [H]er self-portraits . . . were not just a means to communicate feeling, but a device to keep feeling in check. Thus while her paintings draw us into her power, they also frustrate. They are steely in their distance and obdurate in their silence . . . forc[ing] us to come face to face with Frida . . . and . . . with unexplored parts of ourselves. 5 Herrera's appraisal insinuates that the act of painting was emotionally exhausting for Kahlo and that the act of viewing her paintings is emotionally exhausting for Kahlo's admirers, in essence suggesting that Kahlo's paintings devour the artist as well as the audience. The production of paintings is, in Herrera's judgment, thought to have depleted the artist's pain but also to have consumed her energy as she sought to control "the turmoil that thrashed inside her head." The painted products then superseded the actual being of Frida Kahlo and replaced her with "the mythic creature she invented" and "hid behind." And this mythic creature depicted in self-portraits devours its audience "draw[ing] us into her power," and yet, ''steely in their distance and obdurate in their silence," the paintings do not soothe the "anguished interior" of the artist or "unexplored areas of ourselves." The title Devouring Frida refers to these aspects of Kahlo's constructed persona and reception and also to the canons and theories that seamlessly have been incorporated into the mythic Frida. In other words, Kahlo herself is construed as devouring, expending herself and her audience, but she also is devoured, consumed Page 5 by the implicit ideologies of the author=corpus paradigm. Within those biographies that do not acknowledge theoretical applications and assumptions, there are indeed ideologies at work in the seemingly benign, objective quest for historical facts that, together, recount Kahlo's dramatic life. I argue that the "mythic Frida" narrative eradicates the social and cultural negotiations that mediate recollections by colleagues and acquaintances, thereby impeding an analysis of Kahlo's paintings as representations of political inquiry. For example, as I argue in the chapter on "Frida as a Wife/Artist in Mexico," the symbolic significance of motherhood relevant to postrevolutionary reconstruction in Mexico is apparent in recollections of Kahlo's miscarriage and perpetuated in interpretations of Henry Ford Hospital. My analysis of the painting takes postrevolutionary nationalism into account as I look beyond the personal iconography of the self-portrait for references to social and political prescription and resistance. Countering the author=corpus approach that leads to the "devouring" mythology of Kahlo, I undertake a semiotic, feminist analysis of the mechanisms through which the Frida myth has been constructed. Semiotic theory offers a methodological process for investigating the construction of meaning, context, artist, and audience, whereas feminist art history promotes theoretical reasoning for why I should want to dilute Frida's mythic status. I embark on this project not simply to show how ideologies are written into interpretation but to interrogate the celebratory aura surrounding Kahlo's mythic persona. It is important to recognize that, as the feminist dictum declares, the personal is political. Characterizations of Kahlo's emotional and physical well-being invoke cultural definitions of health and illness, gender relations, social restrictions, sexual expectations, and creative production. As Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen note, "The phrase 'the personal is political' rejects the traditional exclusion and repression of the personal in male-dominated politics. It also asserts the political nature of women's private individualized oppression." 6 Texts that most powerfully relegate Kahlo to a feminine sphere of apolitical art and private life uncritically and insidiously sequester the artist from broader social contexts.
  6. 6. Even some recent essays that set out to broaden the social relevance of the artist's work maintain a patriarchally defined gender prescription that empowers the male by disempowering the female cultural domains. Kahlo's biography, and thus the commemoration of her life and work, have been composed through various and specific cultural lenses that, despite claiming to reveal, have distorted the politics of Kahlo's life. For example, as I discuss in the chapter on "Unveiling Politics," Kahlo's ethnic clothing and self-portraits in Mexican dress generally have been Page 6 interpreted to represent Kahlo's fervent nationalism, or mexicanidad. While this conclusion has a certain validity, it is not specific, for there were many "nationalisms" in postrevolutionary Mexico. Artists, intellectuals, and politicians debated the country's self-definition and its social, political agenda. However, an investigation of Kahlo's specific political views has been precluded by the generalized assertion that she embraced her heritage. (This omission partly is a reflection of the difficulty in discerning women's political views from historical records written by key male politicians, activists, artists, and social critics.) Most of Kahlo's biographers implicitly recognize the constructedness of interpretation. 7 For example, Robin Richmond notes that Kahlo and Rivera "were the world's most inventive and consummate confabulators. . . . They told different people what they wanted them to know."8 In the introduction to her biography of Kahlo, Martha Zamora cautions the reader that her research was carried out twenty-seven years after Kahlo's death, by which time the artist's colleagues and friends relied on "selected memory" that "filters out what hurts, combines the incidents that remain, and then adapts them to the form it wants to remember."9 Zamora's description of memory as a filter does not necessarily lead to a rejection of the recollections by Kahlo's contemporaries. There is unquestionable value in incorporating these recollections, although they must be recognized, in themselves, as having been constructed within ideological, historical, and political contexts. By starting with the view that the artist's social and gendered positions are not absolute but rather are rendered by the very discourses used to describe them, I implore that Kahlo's identity not been seen as static. Thus I consider paintings and interpretations semiotically in terms of cultural constructs. Semiotic analysis, Bal and Bryson explain, does not set out in the first place to produce interpretations of works of art, but rather to investigate how works of art are intelligible to those who view them, the processes by which viewers make sense of what they see. Standing somewhat to one side of the work of interpretation, semiotics has as its object to describe the conventions and conceptual operations that shape what viewers dowhether those viewers are art historians, art critics, or the crowd of spectators attending an exhibition.10 To consider "conventions and conceptual operations" among "viewers" is to reconfigure the context in which Kahlo's paintings were produced and interpreted by shifting attention slightly away from the artist to include the social discourses through which Kahlo's colleagues, critics, and historians encountered her work. Semiotics does not disavow the analysis of determinants but recognizes that one's view of context is necessarily partial. For example, as I Page 7 address in the chapter on "Frida of the Blood-Covered Paint Brush," some interpretations of Kahlo's self-portraits consider the artist's pain to be the determining context in which the paintings were created. Herrera states, "she painted mostly self-portraits, suggesting that the confinement of invalidism led to a confinement in subject matter. Indeed the peculiar intensity of her paintings convinces us that they were somehow therapeutic, crucial to the artist's well being." 11 Herrera thereby conflates Kahlo's painting and pain. Although her self-portraits unquestionably include biographical and medical references, they go beyond documenting the individual to include broader political, social, and economic referents in representations of a woman negotiating her gendered position in relation to dominant social and political directives. I do not disagree completely with strictly bitgraphic interpretations of Kahlo's work. Indeed, I rely on the work by other scholars even when I do not espouse the same theoretical approach. However, I argue against the view that Kahlo's work is strictly self-referential, a conjecture exemplified, for example, by Richmond's proclamation that "Frida was a woman who defined herself politicallybut she did not make political paintings."12 Clearly, as Joan Borsa asserts, "the critical reception of [Kahlo's] exploration of subjectivity and personal history has all too frequently denied or de-emphasized the politics involved in examining one's own location, inheritances and social conditions.''13 Thus rather than accepting Kahlo's history of physical and emotional pain as the context in which her paintings were produced, I incorporate analyses of masculinist canons and histories in order to evaluate the engendered classifications of artist, wife, patient, and political activist that have been reproduced through the construction of "mythic Frida" and her "apolitical" paintings. In response to Linda Nochlin's question "why have there been no great women artists?" the grand art history canon was extended in the 1970s, through work by women artists and art historians, to rediscover forgotten women artists.14 Kahlo, as a subject for research, was prominent in this project carried out by "first generation" feminist art historians. This term, coined by Thalia Gouma-Peterson and Patricia Mathews, refers to scholars with an "unspoken but still apparent objective, to prove that women have been as accomplished, even if not as 'great' as men, and to try to place women artists within the traditional historical framework."15 Many of these historians focused on stylistic analyses and bitgraphic chronologies in such a way that each woman artist incorporated into the canon was accorded stylistic forebears. André Breton and Henri Rousseau were deemed influential to the unique blend of surrealism and primitivism with which Kahlo integrated Mexican compositional features, particularly those reminiscent of votive paintings and retablos. Page 8 Feminist critiques argued that, while rediscovering forgotten artists, first generation methodology allowed dominant structures based on "masculine" models to persist. Thus feminist scholars whom Gouma-Peterson and Mathews designate as "second generation" embarked on a different theoretical inquiry as they disclosed the consequences of integrating women artists into the canon without disrupting the masculine paradigm of "great artist.'' Generally, the masculinist category "artist" integrates patriarchal gender stereotypes that reserve public space and historically relevant activity, including the production of socially and aesthetically significant paintings, for aggressive, active men while relegating women to a domestic sphere where their
  7. 7. activities are invisible and inconsequential to the outside world. As Griselda Pollock explains, the attempt simply to annex a woman artist to the existing art history canon does not, indeed cannot, shift its masculinist paradigm. 16 The woman is framed in a relative, secondary position by the patriarchal discourses of art history in which the commemoration of her private, autobiographical art consigns her to an insignificant role in history. She cannot be judged to be as great as the male artists because she does not paint the masculine subjects that make an artist great. In Pollock's words, "The discourses which produce the gendered definitions of the artist and creativity have ideological effects in reproducing socially determined categories of masculinity and femininity."17 Thus second generation feminist scholarship critiques the mechanisms through which the canon maintains the paradigmatic artist as masculine, sexually aggressive, and socially outcast by incorporating poststructuralist, semiotic, and psychoanalytic theories in order to reconstitute a history focusing on the specificity of individual (versus mythic or paradigmatic) women both as artists and as subjects. Art history is but one among numerous masculinist canons at work in Frida mythology. Chloe Furnival, for example, asserts that in Latin American histories women are "pigeonholed resembling either the supposed treacherous whore or the self-abnegating mother or the socially deviant scholar."18 And analogous to the first generation/second generation theoretical and methodological distinctions of feminist art history, feminist scholars endeavor to renegotiate the terms under which women are included into the existing historical narrative rather than simply slotting more women into the canon. For instance, the Latin American and Caribbean Women's Collective argues against "limit[ing] women's demand for liberation to a question of personal fulfillment," cautioning that when woman's "struggle . . . remains at the level of individual demands, [it] does not begin to touch upon the social structure from which domination stems."19 Both European and Latin American masculinist discourses permeate the recollections of Kahlo's colleagues and acquaintances and thus Page 9 are perpetuated in interpretations of the artist's paintings and the celebration of the mythic Frida. In this book, I do not set out merely to recognize what these interpretations are and how they work, but also to analyze how her position as a woman artist is, in Lisa Tickner's words, "repressed, refracted or revealed in her work." 20 Accordingly I articulate the social and cultural positions of "artist" and "woman" within the European canon and within postrevolutionary Mexico in order to disrupt totalizing narratives that restrict the possible considerations of women's histories. However, just as "artist" and "woman'' are not monolithic categories, the distinction between "masculinist" and "feminist" discourse must also acknowledge cultural, historical, racial, and economic differences. Thus I am alert to the relationships among feminisms, particularly the description, or in Cherríe Moraga's view, the trivialization, of the women's movement as a "white middle-class thing, having little to offer women of color."21 But, Moraga argues, so-called white middle-class feminist theory does provide important means for understanding particular circumstances facing women of color who endure and resist economic, racial, or cultural oppression. In other words, feminist studies articulate distinct ways in which oppression influences the lives of women versus men.22 The next two chapters focus on how the narrative of Kahlo's biography, including interpretations of her self-portraits, revolves around her marriage to Rivera and her health. It is difficult to separate an analysis of the artist's marital history from her medical history because interpretations of her paintings have converged these two aspects of her life into a single persona. For example, Herrera suggests that because Kahlo's illnesses often coincided with marital disharmony, it seems likely that she used illness as a way to sustain Rivera's obligation to her.23 Yet it is precisely in order to rebuff such a totalization that I treat each characterization separately. Thus "Frida as a Wife/Artist in Mexico" concentrates on events that are historicized primarily in relation to Kahlo's marriage, including her miscarriages and extramarital affairs. On one hand, she is recalled as having been an adoring wife devastated by her unfulfilled "feminine" desire to have children. On the other hand, colleagues and acquaintances recall her "unfeminine" sexual promiscuity. These divergent characterizations are made coherent in a narrative progressing from marital bliss to disillusionment and, ultimately, acceptance of Rivera's "incorrigible" infidelity. The chronology of her marriage coincides significantly with her success as an artist. As an adoring wife, her painting is presumed to be a hobby; disillusioned by marital infidelity, her painting becomes a career; and concurrent to accepting the particularities of her relationship to Rivera, her painting is seen to commemorate their marriage. Page 10 As a means for examining the coincidental progressions of marriage and career, I incorporate analyses of postrevolutionary gender prescriptions delineating the feminine classification of wife and the masculine classification of artist into interpretations of Kahlo's self-portraits. I thereby examine the political implications for traversing masculine and feminine territories, as exemplified in interpretations of Kahlo's life and work. "Frida of the Blood-Covered Paint Brush" extends my analysis of ideologies inscribed in the constructed Frida persona to demonstrate how, in an author=corpus approach, Kahlo's self-portraits are held as evidence of her physical and emotional health. The self-portraits also are used to support diagnoses of Kahlo's "woman's disease," symptoms of which include hypochondria, masochism, and reprobate sexuality. Authors explicitly characterize Kahlo as obsessed with her health, arguing that a certain degree of her physical and emotional pain was fabricated and that she exaggerated her suffering in order to manipulate Rivera and others. Her self-portraits also are interpreted as overstating her pain and confirming her obsession. Zamora maintains that Kahlo created an intense, emotive pictorial oeuvre that reflects her obsession with her health and suffering. 24 And Herrera declares that Kahlo "uses bodily wounds [in her paintings] to suggest psychic injury. . . . The greater the pain she wished to conveyespecially pain caused by rejection from Diegothe bloodier Frida's self-portraits became."25 Biographers extend the consideration of self-inflicted wounds depicted in her self-portrait to suggest that Kahlo convinced doctors to perform unnecessary surgeries. In other words, the implication is that in her life, as in her paintings, Kahlo's wounds were self-inflicted. As I demonstrate, the consequence of considering Kahlo willfully guilty of her own ill health is that her physical suffering and emotional despair are construed as "particularly appropriate and just punishment"; if only she had followed social and medical prescriptions, biographies suggest, her suffering would have been alleviated.26 Because this conclusion is extremely unsettling, though not unusual in the history of ''woman's disease," I disrupt the symptomatic interpretations of Kahlo and her paintings by comparing the artist's "illness" to filmic representations of diseased women, thereby showing the constructedness of Kahlo as para-digmatically diseased. And I identify ways in which paintings that allude to medical procedures also objectify medical discourse, recasting Kahlo as a critic aware of the social implications of diagnoses, rather than strictly a patient at the mercy of medical establishment.
  8. 8. In "The Language of the Missing Mother" and "Unveiling Politics," I shift from focusing on Kahlo herself as the site of production and examine ways in which broader "contexts" have advanced the mythic Frida. In the first of these two chapters I present issues surrounding the debate Page 11 over whether Kahlo was a surrealist. My investigation of surrealism as a "context" of production and reception implicitly analyzes how the art history canon operates. When Kahlo first exhibited her paintings in New York, she was widely received as a surrealist artist largely due to André Breton's proclamation that in Kahlo, and in Mexico generally, he had discovered "pure surreality." 27 In subsequent years, Kahlo made a conscientious effort to repudiate her affiliation with Breton and with surrealism. Numerous scholars accept Kahlo's disassociation, and some further argue that the surrealist movement was essentially European and had little relevance to the Mexican cultural history from which Kahlo's paintings derived. I grant that in classifying Kahlo as a surrealist, Breton actively produced meaning, thereby imposing a femininely passive role for Kahlo as well as disregarding Mexico's political and aesthetic distinction from Europe. However, as I examine Breton's appropriation of Kahlo for surrealism and Kahlo's subsequent protestations against a surrealist classification of her paintings, I establish the usefulness of considering the manifestation, in Kahlo's work, of surrealism's theoretical interest in the unconscious as a means to confront the implicit irrelevance of women to masculinist canons and histories. I argue that Kahlo's paintings inscribe and resist surrealism's woman, using the visual language of surrealism but not restricting her self-representation to the objectification of a female body as a sexualized body. In other words, the "surrealism" implied in Breton's discovery of Kahlo is distinct from the "surrealism" of Kahlo's paintings. To give credence to Breton's declaration is to delineate Kahlo's subjectivity within masculinist practice. However, denying Kahlo's paintings critical access to the language of surrealism maintains masculinist authority; when Kahlo decidedly is NOT a surrealist, the decision accedes to patriarchal authority to assign classifications of women's art based on histories that deny women access to theoretical production. Classifying Kahlo as a surrealist is problematic only when submitting to masculinist authority to define "woman.'' Conversely, considering how surrealist language operates in Kahlo's paintings promotes an investigation of her creative production as a site where definitions of sexual difference for women, in Teresa de Lauretis's words, "gives femaleness its meaning as the experience of a female subject."28 The analysis, in the chapter on "The Language of the Missing Mother," of how a dominant language operates in interpretations of "Kahlo as woman" corresponds to my examination, in "Unveiling Politics," of symbolic systems through which the classification "Kahlo as Mexican" has been presented. Whereas Kahlo's paintings explicitly depicting the geographic and political juxtaposition of Mexico and the United States have been interpreted as an indication of the artist's distaste for U.S. society, her Page 12 paintings also do not idealize Mexico (though many authors conclude otherwise). I assert that while Kahlo's paintings have been assumed to represent her fervent nationalism, they also integrate complex perspectives toward, and consequences of, defining Mexicanness. Kahlo grew up during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920, a time when national identity was scrutinized, torn apart, and reformulated with successive presidential administrations, some of which lasted only a year before being violently ousted by the next political regeneration of nationalism. During the ten years of revolution, the nation's self-definition was fluid and contested, ultimately accounting for the postrevolutionary campaign for social and political stability embodied in the utopian view of the "mestizo," the Mexican of mixed native and European heritage. But by the 1930s, when Kahlo produced a number of paintings that emphasized native Mexican objects and culture, a wave of "antinationalism" charged the project of defining Mexicanness with paralyzing the country's post-revolutionary political and economic recovery. As political administrations changed and political ideologies shifted from the 1920s through the 1940s, Mexican artists actively producing socially relevant artworks incorporated references to the dynamic debates over national identity. I therefore reexamine a series of Kahlo's self-portraits in which her ethnic dress is a significant compositional element that generally has been considered to reflect her fervent, yet strictly personal, self-identification with Mexican heritage. I elaborate extensively on this association in relation to broader historical trends and political debate. Together, these four chapters show that description, interpretation, and ideology are interwoven (though not equally overt) in biographies of Frida Kahlo. Through my analysis of how the mythic Frida was produced and is recirculated incessantly, I disclose the subtle yet effective processes through which Kahlo's creative, political production has been marginalized as documentary, private record. In "Fetishizing Frida," I focus on analogous processes inscribed in the mechanisms of Fridamania (the socalled frenzied cult following reflected by mass-market circulation of objects bearing Kahlo's image). I identify ways in which Fridamania slights the specifics of individual histories, of both Kahlo and her admirers, by perpetuating the celebration of resilience through sympathizing suffering. I demonstrate ways in which the popularized Frida is both repressed and oppressive, the image accompanied by a moralizing narrative explicating the debilitating "punishment" Kahlo suffered because of her resistance against the paradigmatic woman's roles as articulated in masculinist discourses. But I also propose that Kahlo's popularity commemorates, and thereby potentially perpetuates, the artist's resistance against hegemonic domination. Page 13 Frida as a Wife/Artist in Mexico Frida Kahlo's biography describes her attitude toward marriage to Diego Rivera as progressing from blissfully bourgeois, to vengefully dishonest, and ultimately to comradely complacent. The chronology of her marriage coincides significantly with her development as an artist. When she was considered an adoring wife, her painting was presumed to be a hobby; disillusioned by marital infidelity, her creative work became a career; and concurrent with accepting the particularities of her relationship with Rivera, her painted production came to be considered a commemoration of their personal and political partnership. Kahlo's self-portraits generally are treated as autobiography, with the artist as author who "wrote" her life story with paint and brush. Thus some paintings are interpreted as shedding light on the emotional development of her marriage and the progression of her professional career. In this chapter, I assert that in postrevolutionary Mexico the social category of artist generally was a masculine one and that Kahlo crossed a gendered boundary between wife and artist. Interpretations of her paintings thereby inscribe gendered social prescriptions. The point of my analysis is
  9. 9. not to contest biographic readings of Kahlo's paintings or to dispute the evolution of her marriage to Rivera but rather to examine how her autobiographical self-portraits offer a vehicle for critical insight into social/historical contexts in which Kahlo negotiated a role between the categories of wife and artist. I demonstrate where paradigmatic gendered boundaries alternately have been inscribed, resisted, and transgressed in interpretations of the paintings. And I consider the ways in which Kahlo's creative productions signify complex social mediations at the point of production as well as interpretation. Frida and Diego Rivera (figure 1), produced in 1931 after two years of marriage, generally has been interpreted as a wedding portrait showing that Kahlo embraced the role of a nurturing wife who set up the household, cooked, and delivered Rivera's meals while he worked, sometimes around the clock, on large-scale commissioned mural paintings. Robin Richmond asserts that Kahlo painted infrequently just after the marriage Page 14 Figure 1. Frida and Diego Rivera, 1931. Oil on canvas, 39 1/8" × 3 31". © Banco de México, Av. 5 de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, 06059, México, D.F. 1998. Reproduction authorized by the Banco de México and by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura. because, as she traveled with Rivera, she focused on "being his decorative consort and learning how to cook." 1 In her view, "Diego is the huge untameable [sic] bear of a painter, while she sees herself as the tiny-footed, docile dove, hardly able to contain his massive energy in her little hand."2 Rivera's ''massive energy" can be considered literally to refer to Page 15 his passionate drive to paint murals. Or it can be considered metaphorically to corroborate Hayden Herrera's contention that the double portrait foreshadows the nature of their relationship as Kahlo first grew intolerant of, then later assented to, his infidelity. 3 Analyses of the composition presume to identify Kahlo's thoughts and propose that the artist intended to document her private emotions. In her discussion of the 1931 painting, Herrera cites a statement that Kahlo made in a 1950 interview: "I let him play matrimony with other women. Diego is not anybody's husband and never will be." Herrera suggests that the quotation is relevant to the painting in that Kahlo suspected Rivera's philanderous nature early in their marriage and accordingly portrayed the couple's hands "in the lightest possible grasp" to signify that Rivera was "unpossessable."4 Herrera proceeds, in her description of the painting, to compose character analyses of both husband and wife, arguing that because Kahlo placed the couple's hands in ''the exact center of her wedding portrait," the painting indicates that the "pivot of Frida Kahlo's life was the marriage bond."5 Herrera thereby infers that the painting illustrates Kahlo's feelings toward Rivera and her marriage and that she narrowed her identity to a strictly domestic persona. Conversely, Herrera describes Rivera in association with his painting career, a significant public role: "As firmly planted as an oak, Rivera looks immense next to his bride. Turning away from her, he brandishes his palette and brusheshe is the great maestro. Frida . . . cocks her head and reaches toward her monumental mate. She plays the role she liked best: the genius's adoring wife."6 Herrera's interpretation emphasizes the distinction between husband and wife. Rivera is active; he not merely holds but "brandishes" his palette and brushes. Kahlo is comparatively passive, her movement tentative or incompleteshe "cocks her head" and "reaches toward" rather than firmly looking and grabbing hold. Herrera's interpretation is saturated with gender stereotypes. Rivera is "the great maestro"; Kahlo is "the genius's adoring wife." Herrera also suggests that Kahlo "has given the general outline of herself and Diego the same shape as the initial carved on Diego's belt bucklethe letter D," insinuating that Kahlo metaphorically
  10. 10. surrendered her individuality to sustain his.7 Herrera applies a masculine stereotype to characterize Rivera's self-promoted, exaggerated machismo in terms of both his profession and his libido, and she uses a feminine stereotype to ascribe a domestic role for Kahlo. However, in so doing, she contradicts her own account of Kahlo's overt challenges to prescribed feminine behavior. Beginning in 1922, Rivera aggressively sought Mexican government commissions to execute large-scale murals. The mural program was initiated by minister of education José Vasconcelos, who championed having Page 16 Mexico's history painted on the walls of public buildings as a means to teach an illiterate, uneducated labor force in urban Mexico. 8 At first, numerous artists were employed; eighteen muralists secured commissions, and they, in turn, hired assistant painters and craftspeople. But the government program soon abated during the 192324 presidential campaign as politicians explicitly disassociated themselves from the communist philosophies that many muralists promoted. After the election, only Rivera continued to receive commissions. He became internationally acclaimed and was a veritable tourist attraction from 1923 to 1927, as he worked on the three-story patio walls of the Ministry of Public Education Building. Although political and critical debate over the artistic merit and content of his murals consistently grew, his commission was endorsed financially until the murals were completed. Word of his long work days and large-scale projects fed his mythic status as a powerful artist who literally devoted himself to producing art that championed national unity. He incorporated the precolonial past and indigenous peoples into a pictorial narrative of Mexico's history without backing down to political criticisms of his work. In addition to his artistic virility and political conviction, Rivera's reputation was based on his ruthless temper, competitive drive, and renowned womanizing. In short, he appeared to epitomize the stereotypes of masculine artist and Mexican machismo by being professionally ambitious, sexually aggressive, and politically outspoken.9 The binary relationship of husband and wife assigns women the opposite qualities, seeing them as passive, faithfully submissive, and domestic. By Herrera's account, Kahlo did not embrace these feminine qualities. She was fiercely independent before her marriage to Rivera and had consciously resisted professional and sexual restrictions imposed on middleclass women by social prescription in Mexico. From 1922 to 1925, Kahlo was one of thirty-five women among the two thousand students enrolled in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria and had plans to enter medical school at a time when women doctors were an anomaly. Martha Zamora reports, "Frida enjoyed flouting the rules, whether by a small transgression like wearing bobby socks, prohibited by the school dress code, or by a deviation as extreme as a sexual adventure with an older woman."10 According to accounts of the artist's adolescence, Kahlo had little concern for overarching middle-class social mores. As one of the Cachuchas, a small circle of serious students who gathered to debate academic and political issues, she demonstrated a "masculine" interest in national politics. And as an unmarried seventeen-year-old, she was intimately involved with the Cachuchas leader, Alejandro Gómez Arias. But her relationship and her academic pursuits were dramatically cut short in 1925 when she was critically injured in a near-fatal bus and trolley car Page 17 collision. Her recuperation, slowed by misdiagnosis, began with nine bed-ridden months that foreclosed her scholastic opportunities as medical treatment for her injuries put the family in serious financial debt. While recovering she painted small portraits of friends and family members, some of which she showed to Rivera in 1928, seeking his advice. By then, Rivera was the sole government-sponsored muralist, and Kahlo's initial conversation with him was an inquiry as to whether, in his opinion, she had sufficient talent to become a successful artist. While the scale and subject of the paintings that Kahlo showed to Rivera were the antithesis of the muralist's enormous compositions depicting historical, political events, it was well known that Rivera employed several painters to assist in various aspects of his mural production. So Kahlo's skill might have gotten her a job that would have helped diminish the family's debt incurred by her medical treatment. Rivera did not hire Kahlo, but he did help her to secure a teaching job. Their relationship quickly became intimate, and they married the following year. Herrera's interpretation of Frida and Diego Rivera implies that Kahlo's marriage profoundly affected her character, causing her to abandon professional aspirations and restricting herself to the repressive social expectations of a devoted wife. Indeed, her marriage unquestionably curtailed a teaching career, and her entire family was economically obligated to Rivera. After their 1929 marriage, Rivera paid Kahlo's outstanding medical bills and the mortgage her parents had taken on their house in order to pay their daughter's initial hospital costs. The following year, Kahlo urged her father, "feel free to let me know if you need some money." 11 Thus Rivera's professional success was crucial for sustaining the middle-class lifestyle of Kahlo's entire family. While his mural commissions continued steadily, the salary offered by the Mexican government did not compare to proposals that Rivera began to receive from patrons in the United States. So within four months after their marriage, Rivera and Kahlo moved to Cuernavaca where Rivera produced murals for the Palacio de Cortés through a contract with the U.S. ambassador, Dwight Morrow. Rivera subsequently secured commissions from the San Francisco Stock Exchange and the California School of Fine Arts. The couple lived in California for seven months until June 1931 when they returned to Mexico. After their six months in Mexico, Rivera received commissions in Detroit and then New York. They finally returned to live in Mexico in 1933. Clearly, in the first years of their marriage, Kahlo did not pursue employment opportunities as she accompanied Rivera from one mural site to another. She postponed and ultimately declined a teaching appointment by the Department of Fine Arts in Mexico City. This does not necessarily mean that she abandoned professional aspirations in Page 18 favor of domestic endeavors, but, as numerous interpretation of Frida and Diego Rivera indicate, the double portrait does appear to support Claudia Schaefer's assessment of women's presumed artistic roles in post-revolutionary Mexico: [W]omen were expected to maintain their artistic interests at the level of a trivial, private hobby or to dedicate themselves to the 'contemptible' objects of popular culture. Art as a professional occupation and a medium of exchange value was for men; women were relegated to art (craft?) as a domestic pastime. Perfect subjects for women to portray were, of course, what they 'know best': children and the home. 12 According to Andrea Kettenmann's assessment of the painting, if Kahlo aspired to a painting profession, she "clearly did not yet have the courage to
  11. 11. portray her own self as an artist."13 In other words, Kettenmann's interpretation of Kahlo's painting epitomizes the social context Schaefer described by implying that her role as wife subsumed the artistic endeavors initiated before her marriage. Based on published descriptions of the painting, Kahlo's marital status, and Schaefer's characterization of women's art, it is reasonable to conclude that Kahlo registered prescribed gender roles. But that is not to say that she restricted herself to them. In their study of women writers, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar investigate ways in which women authors (or artists) use a double codeone that abides by the dominant social order and one that uses the same language but subverts social prescription. Women authors, they argue, "both express and camouflage" strategies in which ''surface designs conceal or obscure deeper, less accessible (and less socially acceptable) levels of meaning."14 Considering Kahlo's social rebelliousness before her marriage, her academic goals cut off by injury, and her professional pursuits precluded by her husband's career, the painting, suspiciously, seems to abide by repressive principles. It is extreme in how thoroughly it portrays binary masculine and feminine character traits, suggesting that the subject of the painting is not "Frida and Diego Rivera" (indeed Kahlo did not even call herself Frida Rivera). Rather the painting depicts the artist and her husband in order to produce a painting about binary definition of gendered social positions. The inscription on the ribbon along the top of the composition begins with a seemingly benign identification, "Aqui nos veis, a mi Frieda Kahlo, junto con mi amado esposo" (Here you see us, me Frieda Kahlo, with my beloved husband Diego Rivera), which prompts reading the painting as a marriage.15 But the subsequent statement, beginning with "pinté estos retratos" ("I painted these portraits"), emphasizes Kahlo as producer, clarifying that while "here you see us," it is "me Frida Kahlo" who has created this double portrait. Contrary to Kettenmann's suggestion that Page 19 Kahlo did not yet have the self-confidence to present herself as an artist, Kahlo stresses in words rather than visual illustration that she is an artist and that she created this portrait of herself with her husband. The text continues: "pinté estos retratos en la bella ciudad de San Francisco para nuestro amigo Mr. Albert Bender, y fué en el mes de abril del año 1931 "(I painted these portraits in the beautiful city of San Francisco California for our friend Mr. Albert Bender, and it was in the month of April in the year 1931). 16 Naming Albert Bender, an art collector, transforms the painting from merely a domestic portrait to a commissioned work of art, implicitly classifying Kahlo as a professional, paid artist rather than a housewife dallying away her time with a trivial hobby. She may indeed portray "what she knows best"; however, it is not the bliss of domesticity but the binary distinction between masculinity and femininity that assumes women's omission from professional occupations. The self-proclamation of the ribbon's inscription corresponds with visual features alluding to entrenched gender stereotypes. Thus the painting exemplifies Gilbert and Gubar's argument that women use dominant language illustrating social prescription at the same time that they critique or subvert it. Rivera's brushes and palette allude to his activities outside the composition and thus outside the marriage. In contrast, Kahlo bears no accoutrements that refer to a social role outside of the composition. But her red shawl stands out, in distinct color contrast to the rest of the painting, which shows an ambiguous interior with light green backdrop and dark, olive green floor. Kahlo's dress, hair ribbons, necklace, and shoes are also green, linking her with the interior. Rivera's blue suit and shirt are similar in tone and value and blend into the backdrop. In terms of palette, Kahlo's bright red shawl, the small red flowers on her shoes, and the minute red dots on the ribbon in her hair deviate from the overall blue-green hues. As a complementary color, her shawl and the accents on her ribbon and shoes are defined by their contrasting color in the same way that the classic male/female dichotomy defines one gender by what it is not. On one hand, her role as woman (wife) is defined by its contrast to the role of man (artist). Hue, tone and accoutrements thereby emphasize that while Rivera is designated by his active, social role outside of his relationship to Kahlo, she is distinguished only by her marital association, the male/female relationship that reserves a creative, public role for the husband. However, because her red shawl distinguishes Kahlo from the rest of the composition, it delineates an ambiguous category apart from her domestic identity as wife to Diego Rivera. And in this enigmatic place, Kahlo proclaims herself a professional artist. Thus her painting is not merely a biographic illustration but also is a social/historical marker indicating the context in which she tacitly proclaimed "I am a painter Page 20 and I am married to Diego Rivera." The restrictive characterization "Frida, wife of Diego Rivera," is implicit in interpretations of the painting and alludes to an unspoken resistance against classifying any woman as a professional artist, an active, virile, masculine role in Mexican as well as the European art history canons. The depicted personae of Frida and Diego Rivera reflect this restriction, but the painting also incorporates personal, historical information relevant to her complex, contradictory roles of wife and artist. In postrevolutionary Mexico, one of the most significant social expectations of married women was to bear children, and women were understood to carry an intense yearning to procreate and nurture. Kahlo's creative production is characterized accordingly as a sentimental illustration inspired by the intense psychological agony of not bearing children. For example, Erika Billeter explains that only after Kahlo survived a lifethreatening miscarriage did she "find the mode of expression that typifies her thematic pictures." 17 Billeter asserts that in 1932, when Kahlo "lost a baby for the second time," she realized that "although she can conceive a child, she cannot bear one to the full term. It is as if this realization and the suffering she experienced opened her eyes to a new picture of the world, as if it moved something within her that led to her own vision of pictorial representation. Her suffering created her iconography, and it is tied to her for all time.''18 According to Billeter's assertion, Kahlo's paintings tautologically are inspired by the personal events that they document, and they are stereotypically feminine because of their direct relation to the artist's emotions. Thus Kahlo's entire creative process is considered to be radically distinct from Rivera's stereotypically masculine endeavor to create "history" paintings inspired by social and political events. But, contrary to Billeter's implications, both artists incorporated references to the political context in which they worked. While Kahlo's paintings do indeed include overt allusions to personal circumstances, they are, as Schaefer argues, "inextricably linked to their historical and social contexts [and] they grow out of a total history, not autonomously in isolation from it."19 In short, Kahlo's private life was experienced and understood within wider social contexts that are inscribed alongside personal references in Kahlo's paintings. Re-viewing her work while making a conscientious effort to discern references and resistances to social codes involves considering Kahlo's biography but goes beyond an exclusive focus on personal circumstances. As writers purport that Kahlo's numerous miscarriages provoked an unfulfilled desire that plagued her throughout her adult life, they interpret the 1932 self-portrait Henry Ford Hospital (figure z), produced after recovering from a life-threatening miscarriage, as an illustration of Kahlo's
  12. 12. Page 21 Figure 2. Henry Ford Hospital, 1932. Oil on metal, 12 1/4" × 15 1/2". © Banco de México, Av. 5 de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, 06059, México, D.F. 1998. Reproduction authorized by the Banco de México and by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura. anguish. For example, Herrera explains that Kahlo depicted herself surrounded by "symbols of maternal failure" representing her "knowledge that she would never be able to bear a child." 20 But other authors, though acknowledging Kahlo's inability to bear children, have questioned the intensity of Kahlo's maternal desire. She elected to have a surgical abortion in 1930 after Dr. Jesus Marín concluded that the injuries she sustained in the 1925 bus-trolley collision made her physically unable to bear children.21 In 1932, when she was pregnant for the second time, Kahlo wrote to Dr. Leo Eloesser, expressing concern over her physical debility and asking his advice. Given my health, I thought it would be better to have an abortion. I told [Dr. Pratt] and he gave me quinine and a very strong castor oil for a purge. The day after I took this, I had a very slight [case] of bleeding, almost nothing. I've had some blood during five or six days, but very little. In any event, I thought I had aborted and I went to see Dr. Pratt again. He examined me and told me that he is completely sure that I did not abort and that it would be much better to keep the child instead of causing an abortion through surgery. [He said] that in spite of my body's bad shape, I could have a child through a Cesarcan section without great difficulties even considering the small fracture of the pelvis, spine, etc. etc. . . . I am willing to do what is most advisable for my health; that's what Diego also thinks. Do you think it would be more dangerous to have an abortion than to have a child?22 Page 22 After reviewing her physical condition and recounting Pratt's prognosis, Kahlo's letter implores Eloesser to consider the practical circumstances: Here [in Detroit] I don't have any relatives who could help me out during and after my pregnancy, and no matter how much poor Diego wants [to help me] he cannot, since he has all that work and a thousand more things. So I could not count on him at all. The only thing I could do in that case would be to go back to Mexico in August or September and have it there. I do not think Diego would be very interested in having a child since what he's most concerned with is his work and he is more than right. Children would come in third or fourth place. I don't know if it would be good for me to have a child since Diego is constantly travelling and in no way would I want to leave him by himself and stay behind in Mexico. That would only bring problems and hassles for us both, don't you think? But if you really share Dr. Pratt's opinion that it would be much better for my health not to have an abortion and to have the child all these difficulties can be overlooked in one way oranother. 23 Although Kahlo's letter rationally relays various considerations, conspicuously missing from it is an indication of intense desire to have children. Zamora accordingly suggests that Kahlo "was not obsessed by frustrated maternity," adding that it was, however, "an idea she encouraged."24 And Sarah Lowe explains why Kahlo would have encouraged it: "in the context of Mexican social codes . . . having a child, indeed . . . motherhood itself, not only was an indispensable aspect of femininity but virtually defined womanhood."25 Thus the presumption that Kahlo desperately wanted children, implicit in Herrera's analysis of Henry Ford Hospital, corresponds to a social, symbolic significance of motherhood in Mexico. Motherhood was entangled in Mexico's postrevolutionary concern for social stabilization. During the ten years of revolution, 1910 to 1920, Mexico was economically, socially, and politically chaotic. The country saw ten different presidents, most of whom began their tenure after a violent overthrow of the previous administration. The 1920 election of Álvaro Obregón brought relative calm and an administration intent on constructing national unity and economic equilibrium despite competing ideological forces.26 But even during Obregón's presidential administration, conflicting reconstruction strategies invited ideological and political competition. Much of the industrial infrastructure had to be repaired or rebuilt. There were demands for land and labor reform that would more broadly distribute ownership and profit. Extensive illiteracy, lack of mass communication systems, and a nascent education program complicated the goal of integrating the country's diverse urban and rural populations into an informed democratic citizenry. Stabilization was a long, arduous process, and the problems that Obregón faced in 1920 plagued presidential administrations through the 1930s. Page 23 In the midst of chaos and instability, the mythically steadfast family became a pervasive symbol for stabilizing the country. In the mythic family, the ideal woman excelled in the domestic sphere, nurturing the family, while the paradigmatic man attended to public affairs. 27 Ironically, the gendered stereotypes of husband and wife reinscribed European mores fervently promoted during Porfirio Diaz's 1876 to 1910 presidency, against which
  13. 13. revolutionary factions united in rebellion. Although the rhetoric of postrevolutionary nationalism spurned the Profirian era's embrace of European values and material culture, it also espoused the prerevolutionary social codes for gender distinction articulated through family stereotypes. The symbolism of a paradigmatic husband/father, center of both family and society, with a wife/mother who provided all of his domestic needs, including a throng of children submissive to his paternal direction, comprised an analogy for a society that submitted to a paternalistic national government.28 Repressive gender restrictions were not prime factors contributing to the rebellions that comprised the Mexican Revolution. But women's participation on battlefields and in political arenas marked a significant departure from Porfirian-era gender mores for the middle class. Female soldaderas fought violent, bloody battles and championed political causes to end economic, physical, and cultural exploitation, thereby blatantly disregarding prerevolutionary gendered codes that presumed women's absence from active political combat. Thus the postrevolutionary reinscription of the bourgeois family as a hallmark of a stable society sharply contrasts the liberation from the strict gender dichotomy that the revolution precipitated. Domestic roles were promoted, in part, by mythologizing women's motivations for appearing on the revolution's battlefields. After 1920, accounts of the revolution celebrated women as loyal companions and helpers rather than fierce fighters. Maria Antometa Rascon argues that "bureaucrats who write up the history of women's participation in social movements . . . [emphasize] their subordinate condition, their sacrifices, their self-denial and the support they provide for their husbands' struggles."29 Fictional narratives such as Rivera's 1928 "Distributing Arms" panel of the Insurrection Ballad of the Proletarian Revolution mural at the Ministry of Public Education (figure 3) diminish the active heroic significance of the soldaderas by casting women in passive or subordinate roles. Rivera's mural panel anachronistically portrays Kahlo (who was three years old when the revolution began) distributing arms to revolutionary soldiers. Rivera's painting places Kahlo within a political arena; however, it is an agenda that is engendered. Rivera portrayed Kahlo in a secondary capacity, not actively orchestrating or participating in violent fighting, but equipping men with weapons. As Jean Franco argues, histor- Page 24 Figure 3. Insurrection Ballad of the Proletarian Revolution, "Distributing Arms." Mural by Diego Rivera, 1928. Ministry of Education. Reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Litteratura. ical and fictional narratives that reduce women's revolutionary activities to the domestic ones of giving birth and rearing a family on the battlefields simultaneously herald men as aggressive redeemers. Postrevolutionary discourse associated masculine "virility with social transformation." 30 Rivera's mural represents one way in which gender dichotomy was promotedwomen's roles were depicted as those which serve men's. Another way that gender distinctions were articulated was through symbolic demonstration of the consequences that "overzealous" women faced when they adopted masculine behavior. Franco argues that the "broken family, the cult of violence, and the independent 'masculinized' woman" were primary subjects in postrevolutionary films; and typical narratives focused on the transformation of wayward subjects "into a new holy family in which women accede voluntarily to their own subordination not to a biological father but to a paternal state."31 The family was the ideological site where the passive-female/ active-male distinction was entrenched, with the stereotypic Mexican wife/mother not only ancillary to the absolute authority of the husband/father but also to the nation. Page 25 Within these narratives, male and female roles in relation to family and nation were constructed to appear remarkably stable and unaffected by political upheaval before, during, and after the revolution. The only fluctuation was the family's environment, from home, to battlefield, and back home again, with women faithfully accompanying their husbands in their public duty. Thus the distinction of social roles according to gender lines was formulated as an overriding constant component of early-twentieth-century Mexican society. On the feminine side of the boundary between domestic (feminine) and public (masculine) roles, caretaking responsibilities were configured not merely as a feminine function but a social duty, and motherhood amounted to much more than personal or biological fulfillment. Indeed, despite women's political and military involvement in the revolution, the 1917 Constitution did not grant them the right to vote, on the pretext that their contributions to revolutionary causes were not an indication of political aspirations. One report to the Constituent of Congress claims that "Mexican women have traditionally concentrated their activities on the home and the family. Women have no political consciousness and do not feel the need to participate in public life, as is shown by the absence of any collective movement to attain this end." 32 Kahlo produced Henry Ford Hospital amid this mythology, which is echoed in assumptions that Kahlo was devastated by her lack of children.
  14. 14. Interpretations inscribing postrevolutionary symbolism of the family project an overwhelming despair onto Kahlo, thereby demonstrating the tenacity of the family mythology. As Tomás Almaguer argues, the "Mexican family remains a bastion of patriarchal privilege for men and a major impediment to women's autonomy outside the world of the home."33 With the hospital bed and miscarriage depicted in an open, outdoor space, Henry Ford Hospital exaggerates the correlation between private incident and public discourse. When the painting was first exhibited, its title was The Lost Desire. Though rarely discussed as an aspect of the painting, the "lost desire" to which the former title refers implicitly has been assumed to refer to Kahlo's longing for children. However, another association with a "lost desire" is the less-often-invoked charge that Kahlo lacked maternal longing. This is a more serious accusation in that the artist rejects social prescriptions for enacting mythic stereotypes relating national, paternal desire to a gendered, social hierarchy. Suspicion about Kahlo's ''desire" is implied in accounts of the miscarriage in which she is held responsible for the baby's death. Ella Wolfe suggested that Kahlo could have carried a child to term if only she had obeyed the doctor's instructions to stay in bed for six months.34 And Richmond explains: "Having finally decided to try to rest and keep the baby, Frida's behavior seemed designed to sabotage her deepest wish. Diego had come Page 26 around to the idea of a child. He tried to . . . persuade Frida to have complete bed rest. She took driving lessons instead." 35 Thus, with a husband who had "come around" and was urging Kahlo to restrict her behavior appropriately, she alone is blamed for their lack of children and held culpable for the aborted family. Kahlo's miscarriage connotes both a personal tragedy and a public loss that could have been prevented. Symbolically Rivera is cast as if he accepted his individual responsibility to build a stable postrevolutionary society through the propagation of children. Kahlo accordingly is cast as a traitor who recklessly put her individual whims before her social responsibility. No matter how much she may have wished for a child (as alleged), her actions sabotage the postrevolutionary social directive. In Herrera's analysis of Henry Ford Hospital, Kahlo suffers the consequences of her socially subversive behavior. Herrera notes the juxtaposition of the hospital bed and the Ford factory in the background and explains, "the world outside . . . functions cleanly and efficiently; Frida on the other hand is a wreck."36 With the assertion that Kahlo depicted herself as physically and emotionally disabled, Herrera implies that Kahlo recognized her own culpability. Furthermore, she suggests that the distance between Kahlo's bed and the factory, where Rivera worked on sketches for his Detroit murals, is an analogy for the distance between his commitment and her lack of commitment to social prescription delineated according to gender dichotomy. Herrera explains that one reason Kahlo weeps in the painting is because Rivera has abandoned her in order to return to his work, and his absence is exacerbated by the barrenness of her womb, tangible evidence of her selfish irresponsibility. Ironically, while strict social codes are embedded in the recollections of Kahlo's miscarriage and interpretations of the paintings, the relevance of broader social contexts tacitly is negated when writers insist that Kahlo focused exclusively on illustrating her emotional responses to personal tragedies. Kettenmann attributes the artist's painting style and compositional elements to Kahlo's purported intention to illustrate her private life: Although the . . . [objects] are rendered in accurate detail, true-life realism is avoided in the composition as a whole. Objects are extracted from their normal environment and integrated into a new composition. It is more important to the artist to reproduce her emotional state in a distillation of the reality she had experienced than to record an actual situation with photographic precision.37 Herrera also restricts consideration of compositional features to personal denotation based on statements by the artist and her colleagues. Citing Kahlo's comments from a 1939 interview conducted by art historian Page 27 Parker Lesley, Herrera explains the meaning of objects depicted in the painting: the pelvic bone represents doctors' theories that injuries sustained in the 1925 bus-trolley accident prevented Kahlo from carrying a child to term; the orchid was a gift from Rivera; the snail represents the agonizingly slow pace of the miscarriage; and the infant stands for the aborted fetus, the "'little Diego' she hoped it would be." 38 Herrera's direct correlation between the depicted miscarriage and the actual miscarriage is not without basis, as it is supported by Kahlo's explanation. But artists' statements also must be considered in relationship to social, historical contexts. As Schaefer argues, social directives dissuaded women from speaking critically about their lives: "If a woman spoke up, she was no longer dependent on others, nor on the interpretation and control of social reality, and consequently she was a threat to the status quo."39 Kahlo's description of the painting, as related by Lesley, clearly corresponds to social expectations, but it does not necessarily correspond to Kahlo's attitudes toward motherhood. David Lomas refers to broader social discourses that may have compelled Kahlo to publicly explain her paintings as nothing more than personal illustrations, and these also would have accounted for the fact that Kahlo's contemporaries held her responsible for the miscarriage. He begins his analysis of the painting by noting, "In the culture to which Kahlo belonged miscarriage was a source of shame: the abject failure of a socially conditioned expectation of motherhood."40 Lomas regards Kahlo's use of personal circumstance as a vehicle through which she articulated not merely personal feelings but broader feminine experiences that go beyond the biological. The painting refers to socialization structures that delineate paradigmatic gendered characterizations. Thus the disjunctures and discontinuities of Kahlo's painting represent her personal position in affiliation with, yet distinct from, the mythology of motherhood. On one hand, the painting exemplifies social prescription in ways that Herrera and Kettenmann discuss: the artist depicted herself as emotionally distraught over her lack of children, abandoned in a landscape devoid of human companionship, and haunted by her aborted son. On the other hand, the painting also challenges social directive by making explicit the limited realm (motherhood) in which women could be socially esteemed. The baby is at the center of the painting, analogous to a child as the central, necessary feature for completing the patriarchal family. Significantly Kahlo depicted a baby boy who would have inherited the masculine privileges of patriarchal society but who also represents the perpetual regeneration of the patriarchal nation. Without children, the wife's subordination and the husband's command are incomplete, and the woman floats in an enigmatic space. Page 28 Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen articulate an approach to interpretation that moves away from identifying aspects of the painting as signifiers for Kahlo's
  15. 15. personal life and private emotions. They argue that Kahlo "uses the device of the 'emblem.' In Henry Ford Hospital, her body on the bed is surrounded by a set of emblematic objects, like those surrounding the crucified Christ in an allegory of redemption." 41 There is a significant difference between thinking about the objects in the painting as personal references, "symbols of maternal failure," as Herrera proposes, or as emblems, "graphic signs which carry a conventional meaning, often in reference to a narrative subtext . . . or a common set of beliefs."42 As personal referents, the bloody hospital bed stands as tangible evidence of her barren womb. The medical world, symbolically represented by the autoclave and medical models of a female torso and pelvic bone, diagnosed Kahlo's responsibility for the miscarriage. However, if her miscarriage is considered a narrative subtext, then interpretation can incorporate broader social issues. As Lomas explains, medical practice "straddles the border of private and public," enforcing public gender codes through an analysis of private culpability.43 Lomas further suggests that the Ford Complex in the background invokes capitalist standards. Thus Kahlo's medical miscarriage is presented alongside measures of production and profit in which the ''birth and death in miscarriage adds up to nothing."44 In relationship to postrevolutionary issues, the miscarriage neither counts toward the perpetuation of family nor promotes symbolic stabilization. As Lomas explains, Kahlo's detailed rendering of objects within an imaginary scene including a hospital bed on an industrial landscape is an "awkward disjuncture between two pictorial modesschematic and naturalistic," which can, given critical analysis, "render visible a blindspot" or unspoken narrative inscribed in cultural discourse.45 Her childlessness was a tangible social dysfunction, the first transgression that marked Kahlo's unstable social status. As Kahlo became defined as a childless woman and an artist, she crossed gender boundaries, and interpretations of her paintings exemplify the tension under which social codes were imposed and resisted. The consistency with which writers describe Kahlo's maternal longing and despair, alongside the absence of any expression in Kahlo's letters of intense desire, suggests that she may have orchestrated a false notion that she yearned for children. Although hardly surprising given social expectations, her duplicity complicates the strict binary distinction between men and women in which motherhood defines woman, because it suggests that Kahlo covertly rejected an esteemed stereotypic female role for herself. According to a strict binary interpretation, if Kahlo does not crave feminine fulfillment, she must, by default, desire a masculine position. This would have been particularly Page 29 unsettling to a society in which, as Almaguer suggests, "lines of power/ dominance [are] firmly rooted in a patriarchal Mexican culture that privileges men over women and the masculine over the feminine." 46 Overt resistance against strict binary roles was extremely difficult in a culture that viewed, as Matthew Gutmann notes, las mujeres abnegadas (self-sacrificing women) as the popular opposite from machismo.47 During the 1920s and 1930s, women had little opportunity to effect political cultural changes, despite their organized fight for women's rights, including the right to vote.48 Thus resistance to strict gender codes could effectively be enacted only in their personal lives. However, if a woman resisted actively enough, foregoing passive subordinate behavior, she fell into another categorythe fallen woman, a potential traitor whose resistance is associated with an active, aggressive sexual drive. According to Lesley, Kahlo explained that the orchid represented in Henry Ford Hospital was a flower that Diego gave her while she was in the hospital, but it also represented "the idea of a sexual thing."49 Merely incorporating a subtle representation of sexuality was not in and of itself a serious transgression, but reports of Kahlo's blatant acknowledgment of sexual connotations cast suspicion on her willingness to abide by social codes. Bertram Wolfe described Kahlo's masculine manner. She chain-smoked cigarettes, drank to excess in public, and used "the richest vocabulary of obscenities . . . known [of] one of her sex to possess."50 In other words, her behavior was resolutely unfeminine and thereby an overt challenge to gender dichotomy. This sort of challenge was typical of the "woman resistor" or fallen women and, Franco argues, was a significant element in social mythologies told through popular, postrevolutionary fictional written and filmed narratives.51 The fallen woman narrative ended either in a moralizing portrayal of an irretrievable psychological decline (for which only the woman herself was to blame) or in the jubilant recovery of a woman reentering the dominant order. Both of these themes are present in Kahlo's life during the mid-1930s, at which point it became clear that she could not be "contained'' within the category "mother," and during which her feelings toward marriage are characterized as having transformed from blissfully domestic to vengefully dishonest. Biographies typically identify two primary catalysts for the transformationKahlo's insistence that she and Rivera return to live in Mexico in 1933 and her despondence over Rivera's infidelity. Both are relevant to gender stereotypes in that Kahlo transgressed and Rivera exalted in their respective female and male paradigms. Kahlo's letters indicate that she was aware of, and accepted, Rivera's extramarital affairs, which began perhaps as early as their wedding day. (Herrera reports that Rivera got excessively drunk and disappeared for Page 30 two days, during which he probably was in the bed of another woman.) In Mexico, Rivera's sexual "conquests" were publicized, accepted, and expected in a society in which machismo is an overarching, constructed measure of masculinity. As Marvin Goldwert argues, "From adolescence through his entire life, the Mexican male will measure virility by sexual potential." 52 Although Kahlo may not have liked her husband's philandering, she purportedly tolerated Rivera's promiscuity and the publicity surrounding it until he became sexually involved with her sister Cristina. Upon discovering the affair, Kahlo moved into an apartment in Mexico City. Her disillusionment with marriage is apparent in a letter she wrote to Ella and Bertram Wolfe during the separation: "I had trusted Diego would change, but I can see and know that it is impossible; it's just a whim on my part. Naturally, I should have understood from the beginning that it will not be me who will make him live in this way or that way, especially when it comes to such a matter [as his sexual liaisons with other women].''53 In the same letter, Kahlo reflects on her life as the wife of Diego Rivera, succinctly characterizing the social position of the subordinate wife: First, he has his work, which protects him from many things, and then his adventures, which keep him entertained. People look for him and not me. I know that, as always, he is full of concerns and worries about his work; however he lives a full life without the emptiness of mine. I have nothing because I don't have him. I never thought he was everything to me and that, separated from him, I was like a piece of trash. I thought I was helping him to live as much as I could, and that I could solve any situation in my life alone without complications of any kind. But now I realize I don't have any more than any other girl disappointed at being dumped by her man. I am worth nothing, I know how to do nothing; I cannot be on my own.
  16. 16. My situation seems so ridiculous and stupid to me that you can't imagine how I dislike myself. I've lost my best years being supported by a man, doing nothing else but what I thought would benefit and help him. I never thought about myself, and after six years, his answer is that fidelity is a bourgeois virtue and that it exists only to exploit [people] and to obtain an economic gain.54 Clearly Kahlo was devastated by the affair and questioned the personal value of her domestic devotion. Rivera accordingly is castigated for his callousness, as well as his infidelity, in Kahlo's biographies. However, she also is held accountable for Rivera's affair with her sister, for Herrera asserts that Rivera may have had the affair with Cristina because he blamed Frida for their leaving the United States in 1933.55 Herrera's interpretation intimates the social, gendered context that contained the moralizing consequences awaiting the wife who dominates her husband, "forcing" him to relocate and thereby not practicing "proper subordination." Kahlo crossed an unspoken boundary that distinguished pervading Page 31 gender paradigms when she actively made demands; she was no longer passively subservient and therefore suffered the consequencesher husband's affair with her sister. This narrative, consistently recounted in biographies of Kahlo, parallels remarkably the moralizing films and published fiction Franco analyzes. There undoubtedly are aspects of "truth" embedded in the biographies, but the point is not to distinguish "truth" from moralizing fiction but rather to recognize the pervasiveness of cultural stereotypes and mythologies in order to question whether Kahlo's paintings really promote social prescription as thoroughly as some biographies imply. Kahlo and Rivera soon reunited, but Kahlo no longer appeared to embrace conventional bourgeois ethics regarding marriage and sexuality, for both she and Rivera had intimate, sexual relationships outside their marriage. Herrera attributes Kahlo's sexual infidelity to extreme disillusionment and considers her pronounced sexual drive a conscious retribution against Rivera. Herrera suggests that in 1935 Frida had affairs with Isamu Noguchi and mural painter Ignacio Aguirre primarily because Rivera had been unfaithful." 56 Zamora notes, "some [of Kahlo's] friends believed these dalliances were merely in retaliation for Diego's transgressions; others felt they were expressions of her own sexual amorality."57 Whether vengeful or sincere, Kahlo implicitly is cast as amoral, despite the spousal agreement; but it was not necessarily her sexuality, rather her active pursuit, that was most socially transgressive. Comparing Rivera's Today and Tomorrow. Modern Mexico mural in the National Palace (figure 4) to Kahlo's painting A Few Small Nips (figure 5), both completed in 1935, demonstrates a double standard and contradictory perspectives regarding sexual promiscuity and infidelity. Franco argues that Rivera's Today and Tomorrow: Modern Mexico characterizes the limited extent of women's liberation in postrevolutionary Mexico.58 Kahlo and her sister Cristina are depicted as teachers, but there are significant differences between them. In the 1920s and 1930s, teachers and caretakers, "surrogate mothers," were respectable social roles for women, particularly unmarried middle-class women, signifying participation through appropriate political service in postrevolutionary Mexico. Vasconcelos characterized women who carried out literacy programs in rural areas as national heroines. Despite the inclusion of women in the nation's social reconstruction, as Franco points out, the teaching missions "placed women in a position that was rather similar to that of the nuns in the colonial period serving their redeemer. They were expected to be unmarried and chaste, they had little expectation of rising in their profession, and motherhood was still regarded as woman's supreme fulfillment."59 In the mural Rivera casts his wife, who is unable to realize Page 32 Figure 4. Today and Tomorrow: Modern Mexico. Mural by Diego Rivera, 1934. National Palace, Mexico City. Reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura.
  17. 17. "woman's supreme fulfillment" through bearing children, as a teacher, the next best, socially respectable role. She rests her hands on a boy's shoulder in a gesture of care and encouragement while, with the other hand, she helps him hold his book. Frida as teacher nurtures a child's education, thereby guiding him toward a productive, active public role. Cristina also holds a book, but her attention, and the book, are directed toward the viewer rather than the children next to her. Remarking on the fact that Rivera was married to Frida and sexually involved with Cristina Page 33 Figure 5. A Few Small Nips, 1935. Oil on metal, 15" × 19". © Banco de México, Av. 5 de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, 06059, México, D.F. 1998. Reproduction authorized by the Banco de México and by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura. during the production of this mural, Franco asserts that the image presents a social message for women as well as "a male polygamous fantasy" suggested by Cristina's "voluptuous look and upturned eyes of a woman in orgasm." 60 While appearing to demonstrate women's professional "liberation," Rivera's mural also promotes an idealized masculine virilityboth sexual and socialby depicting two women, one socially marginalized and the other sexually available. Women may have enjoyed a certain level of professional status and some loosening of sexual mores, they were not free of the passive/active axis that renders the woman professionally subservient and sexually submissive to the active male. Kahlo's painting A Few Small Nips depicts a socially resonant attitude toward actively promiscuous women. The painting is a bloody depiction of a woman with multiple stab wounds, lying on a bed while her attacker, splattered with blood and still holding a knife, stands over her mutilated body. The title was taken from a newspaper report of a man who brutally murdered his unfaithful wife. Upon his arrest, he explained, "But I only gave her a few small nips."61 Kahlo's preparatory sketch for the paintingin which the man explains, "My sweetie doesn't love me anymore because she gave herself to another bastard, but today I snatched her Page 34 away, her hour has come"explicitly indicates that infidelity precipitated the murder. 62 The woman wears one shoe with stocking and garter pushed down her leg. Her erotic accoutrements hint at the woman's transgression, which crosses a boundary distinguishing a sexually passive woman from the promiscuous whore, the most culturally stigmatized female in Mexican society. In fact, Herrera characterizes the man as stereotypically macho and the woman a la chingada, a term which, on one hand, simply refers to her victimization.63 According to Octavio Paz the feminine noun la chingada is related to the verb chingar: The verb is masculine, active, cruel: it stings, wounds, gashes, stains. And it provokes a bitter resentful satisfaction. The person who suffers this action is passive, inert, and open, in contrast to the active, aggressive, and closed person who inflicts it. The chingón is the macho, the male; he rips open the chingada, the female who is pure passivity, defenseless against the exterior world. The relationship between them is violent and it is determined by the cynical power of the first and the impotence of the second.64 On the other hand, la chingada is a complex cultural classification that suggests a woman's innate culpability, associated with her sexuality, as the base cause of European penetration and domination of precolonial Mexico. La chingada literally translates as "the fucked one" and refers, in Cherríe Moraga's words, to the "sexual legacy" of betrayal "pivoting around the historical/mythical female figure of Malintzin Tenepal," the Aztec translator and mistress to Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.65 Moraga explains, "Upon her shoulders rests the full blame for the 'bastardization' of the indigenous people of Mexico. To put it in the most base terms: Malintzin, also called Malinche, fucked the white man who conquered the Indian peoples of México and destroyed their culture."66 Ironically, as Moraga notes, Malinche "is not . . . an innocent victim, but the guilty partyultimately responsible for her own sexual victimization.''67 Although Herrera refers to the woman depicted in Kahlo's painting as la chingada, she does not discuss the cultural signification of Malinche's sexuality and its association with deception, which is presumed to be inherent in all women. Analogous to Malinche's guilt as a traitor to the Mexican people, Herrera implies Kahlo's guilt in Rivera's affair with her sister (by supposing that because Kahlo assumed the active role of directing Rivera to return to Mexico, she precipitated the affair). Herrera thereby suggests that A Few Small Nips was produced in response to the affair. Richmond also alleges that the painting refers to the emotional pain Kahlo suffered due to Rivera's callous infidelity, and she proposes that the painting represents reversed gender roles in its "graphic expression of the anger she wishes to vent on his . . . body."68 Richmond's words