Frida Kahlo’s roots in art

Written by Khatia Mikadze


“My Dress Hangs There” by Frida Kahlo (1933)

“My Dress Hangs There” by Frida Kahlo (1933)

It has been more than a decade since the first time Frida Kahlo’s art was featured in New York City’s prestigious galleries and art halls. This year, New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx has organized the first exhibition of its kind: “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life,” what the Garden administration calls an exploration of “Kahlo’s keen appreciation for the beauty and variety of the natural world.” Besides a rare collection of paintings, drawings, and photographs of Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, the exhibition includes a replica of the garden and studio at her home in Mexico, nicknamed La Casa Azul. Many of the fruit trees and flowers, like Jacaranda, sunflowers, roses, and dozens of cactus varieties that Kahlo used in her paintings make an appearance.

The replica of La Casa Azul at the New York Botanical Garden

The replica of La Casa Azul at the New York Botanical Garden

Frida Kahlo, arguably the most famous female Mexican artist, has not only inspired countless women with her story and her art, but she has also shaped contemporary trends in art and fashion. She is known for her exceptional style of self-portraits that convey her inner struggles as a woman, political views, and her affection for Mexican culture.

Frida Kahlo was born and raised in La Casa Azul, known as the Blue House, in Mexico City. At the age of 18, she was terribly injured in a bus accident. After thirty-five surgeries, she recovered the ability to walk, but suffered severe health problems, including spinal cord damage and relapses of extreme pain. As a result, she abandoned medical school and decided to paint. Many of her  paintings tell a story of her physical sufferings.

After Kahlo married famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera, she moved to New York City in the early 1930s, when Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural at Rockefeller Center. While Diego was fascinated by industrial and capitalist America, Frida struggled with homesickness and desperately wanted to go back to Mexico. The painting “My Dress Hangs There,” reflects her inner struggles and feelings of frustration, and her longing to return to Mexico. The dense, gray industrial city background seems to allude to her frustration and difficulties in adapting to the new environment of New York City, and the empty traditional Mexican dress symbolizes her deep longing for home. The dress is also the traditional attire of women in Tehuantepec, a city in southern Mexico known for being a matriarchal society, where the birth of a female child is celebrated and women residents control the majority of city markets. With the representation of this particular dress, Kahlo also draws on her strong emotional attachment to her Mexican roots, and her identity as a strong, powerful woman.


Ballet Folklorico dancers in traditional Mexican dress at the opening of “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life”

Ballet Folklorico dancers in traditional Mexican dress at the opening of “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life”

Nostalgia and homesickness are often the first emotional burdens faced by immigrants while settling in a new country. Several studies show that female immigrants who leave their home country and attempt to adapt to a new, unfamiliar environment, are more likely to suffer from homesickness than male immigrants, which often leads to direct ramifications for their integration and assimilation into the host country and society.

While women who experience severe feelings of homesickness can suffer from serious distress and anxiety, sometimes even leading to depression with detrimental effects on the lives of those affected, homesickness can also have positive effects. Many women immigrants recreate their past by reviving memories of home, which often drives and nurtures creativity and artistic expression, as in the case of Kahlo. In these cases, nostalgia becomes a restorative experience rather than a painful one.

Kahlo’s garden in La Casa Azul, which continued to grow when she returned to Mexico, as well as her paintings like “My Dress Hangs There,” were a type of creative self-therapy that helped Kahlo restore her ethnic identity and cope with the severe physical pain while navigating life in New York.

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” – Frida Kahlo


You can see “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” at the New York Botanical Garden until November 1, 2015.


You may also like...

1 Response

  1. Edil Cuepo says:

    Love this piece! Women with courage and creativity (like Frida Kahlo) remind society of what we women are really capable of. When women are free of fear and insecurity, we create and interact even more beautifully