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Devouring Frida

The Art History and Popular Celebrity of Frida Kahlo

Margaret A. A. Lindauer

Publication Year: 2011

Beginning in the late 1970's Frida Kahlo achieved cult heroine status less for her richly surrealist self-portraits than by the popularization of the events of her tumultuous life. Her images were splashed across billboards magazine ads, and postcards; fashion designers copied the so-called "Frida" look in hairstyles and dress; and "Fridamania" even extended to T-shirts, jewelry, and nail polish. Margaret A. Lindauer argues that this mass market assimilation of Kahlo's identity has consistently detracted from appreciation of her work, leading instead to narrow interpretations based on "an entrenched narrative of suffering." While she agrees that Kahlo's political and feminist activism, her stormy marriage to fellow artist Diego Reviera, and the tragic reality of a progressively debilitated body did represent a biography colored by emotional and physical upheaval, she questions an "author-equals-the-work" critical tradition that assumes a :one-to-one association of life events to the meaning of a painting." In kahlo's case, Lindauer says, such assumptions created a devouring mythology, an iconization that separates us from rather than leads us to the real significance of the oeuvre. Accompanied by 26 illustrations and deep analysis of Kahlo's central themes, this provocative, semiotic study recontextualizes an important figure in art history at the same time it addresses key questions about the language of interpretation, the nature of veneration, and the truths within self-representation.

Ebook Edition Note: All images have been redacted.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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pp. c-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

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...

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Introduction: Rereading Frida Kahlo

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pp. 1-12

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...

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Frida as a Wife/Artist in Mexico

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pp. 13-53

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...

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Frida of the Blood-Covered Paint Brush

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pp. 54-85

IN THIS CHAPTER I continue my examination of gendered stereotypes, focusing on the complimentarity of femininity and disease. Historically, femaleness and illness (as opposed to femininity and socially relevant creative production) have been remarkably compatible. Diane Price Herndl characterizes “patriarchal culture as potentially sickening for...

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The Language of the Missing Mother

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pp. 86-113

IN 1938, during his first visit to Mexico, André Breton exclaimed that Frida Kahlo’s work had “blossomed forth . . . into pure surreality, despite the fact that it had been conceived without any prior knowledge whatsoever of the ideas motivating” him and his colleagues.1 The same year, Julien Levy invited Kahlo to exhibit in his surrealist-oriented gallery in...

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Unveiling Politics

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pp. 114-149

REEVALUATING KAHLO’S PAINTINGS and theories inscribed in interpretations of her self-portraits demonstrates that the artist’s production was not merely self-centered illustration relevant only to her body and psyche. As Joan Borsa argues, Kahlo’s paintings are “much more complicated, politically engaged and analytically subversive . . . than...

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Fetishizing Frida

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pp. 150-180

POPULAR INTERPRETATIONS OF Frida Kahlo’s paintings make ample reference to the artist’s social position as a Mexican woman married to the famous muralist Diego Rivera, and to the fact that she and Rivera both created works of art during the postrevolutionary decades. But, as I have argued, the complexities of the political, historical, and social...


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pp. 181-200


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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780819572097
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819563477

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2011