Frida Kahlo remains one of the most controversial figures in the history of art. Being a person who had gone through physical tortures and moral losses, Kahlo managed to retain her talent and individuality. Most of her works irradiate strong personal, autobiographical meanings, which are directly related to the most important events of her life. Today, Kahlo's pictures exemplify an interesting object of analysis and create a more sophisticated picture of the painter's life and death. "Fruits of the Earth" was created in 1938. It is the largest still-life painting Frida Kahlo painted in her artistic career. The painting carries complex personal and political meanings. It is possible to say that, through the prism of Kahlo's life, "Fruits of the Earth" comes as both political and personal, reinforcing the painter's commitment to nationalism and revealing the deep sense of sorrow for her battered body.
To start with, "Fruits of the Earth" is one of the most famous and controversial, Kahlo's paintings. The painting is made in oil and displays the characteristic features of Naïve Art (Primitivism). The latter was flourishing at the time Kahlo was creating her masterpieces. Since 1935, and under the influence of Arthur O. Lovejoy's seminal work, primitivism has become a defining feature of Latin American art. Primitivism is not a cultural style; rather, it is a philosophical trend that reflects and reinforces one's dissatisfaction with the complexity of the industrial world. Primitivism sends a message of simplicity and suggests that elementary life makes a person much closer to moral plenitude and freedom. Kahlo's work expresses simplicity in representation and forms. It is an attractive and fascinating painting that shows various fruits on the plate, which is located on a table. The choice of fruits is quite peculiar: Kahlo draws corn cobs, prickly pears, and pitahayas. Some of them are cut open, The fruits add a personal meaning to the philosophy of nationalism that is central to this still-life painting.
It should be noted that, despite a considerable body of criticism, the still-life genre is still real and alive. In 1939, Life magazine published a short article featuring contemporary artists, who were committed to still-life painting. According to the article, the artists were willing to revive the still-life genre and make it as popular as it had been at the times of the famous Dutch masters. Most probably, for Frida Kahlo, the still-life genre was a convenient instrument of self-expression, as it fit ideally in her philosophy of naïve art and primitivism. In any case, it is at the time of still-life's renaissance that Frida Kahlo created her "Fruits of the Earth." In America, the rebirth of still-life confirmed that the national art was in good health. For Frida Kahlo, it was one of the most favorite forms of self-representation through painting.
Needless to say, "Fruits of the Earth" is filled with numerous political meanings, with the theme of nationalism being central to its philosophy. The painting was created at the time, when Kahlo's native country was undergoing dramatic political changes and Kahlo herself was reconstructing her political identity. Since the end of the 1920s, when the painter was coming of age, Mexico was trying to distance itself from the American and European influences. "The state turned to constructing a new identity and to defining the uniqueness and historical authenticity of Mexico and Mexican identity, locating this uniqueness first in the Mexican people – the working class and the ethnically 'indigenous'." The art world of Mexico followed the so-called Mexicanization trends, and numerous state-sponsored art programs further strengthened the major political influences on the public. Unfortunately, women who directly participated in the Mexican nationalist movement were still bound to play secondary political and social roles. Women's voices were kept anonymous, and they could not participate in the state's political decisions.
"Fruits of the Earth" is a reflection of Kahlo's sentiment for nationalism. Even the fact that she chooses only Mexican food for her painting confirms Kahlo's strong political stance. This painting positions Kahlo as a revolutionary artist, who is not afraid of being brave in her movement towards freedom and unlimited self-expression. The Mexican fruits on the plate had to symbolize Kahlo's commitment to her culture, while also revealing her strong bonds with the nature. The politics of Kahlo's painting is in that she regards nature to be the primary source of culture. In her painting, she does not transform the nature; rather, she makes it look even more natural. In this way, the talented painter tries to resolve the existing revolutionary paradox, when a land as feminine as Mexico does not let its women fight for their basic rights. In Kahlo's "Fruits of the Earth", fruits are not passive; they become active carriers of the painter's political message. Their rich fleshiness celebrates the femininity of the Mexican earth. Contrary to many public beliefs, these fruits do not symbolize the entire world; their significance is limited to Mexican earth, with its feminine richness and productive fertility, and the red flesh of the open-cut fruits is nothing but the bleeding heart of Mexico.
Yet, the meaning of Kahlo's "Fruits of the Earth" is not limited to politics. It reveals the gloom and sorrow for the painter's battered body. It is not a secret that Kahlo went through considerable physical sufferings and losses, which transcend all aspects of her artistic work. She fell sick with polio, when she was six. As a result, her one leg became much thinner and its foot deformed. Because of that, Frida was nicknamed as "peg-leg Frida", when she was studying at the German College. Her femininity suffered, and she could not express it in full. Another tragedy happened in 1925, when the bus she took with her boyfriend to go home after school crashed into a tram. Kahlo had multiple traumas and serious injuries. Particularly injured was her back. She was bound to spend more than three months in bed. Not surprisingly, her paintings reflect the sorrow for the lost physical beauty and the physical and emotional pain she suffered because of her injuries.
Actually, the entire painting with its cut-open and fleshed fruits looks like a huge open injury, which leads to pain and makes the mood even gloomier. An interesting fact is that, initially, "Fruits of the Earth" was painted on a blue-sky background. Later, Frida Kahlo changed the color, making it gloomy-grey. This is why the still-life depicting only Mexican fruits is believed to be a form of Kahlo's self-portraiture. These fruits operate as Kahlo's body parts, which are equally sensual and suffering. At times, the painting looks overtly erotic; at other times, it provides an opportunity to rethink the sophisticated circles of life. It is the round plate that creates such a feeling. The beauty of the form cannot be denied. In this context, it is possible to say that Kahlo welcomes her forms and sufferings but also defies them. Moreover, she uses her talent for painting to make sense of her personality and psyche. Her paintings are unique and relatively productive attempts to reconsider her identity in light of the broader political and less visible but no less significant personal changes.
In "Fruits of the Earth", the personal and political come together to substantiate Kahlo's continuous regret for the Mexican revolution that never happened. It is a combination of pride and sorrow, which becomes obvious through the choice of fruits for her still-life and the form, in which they are presented. On the one hand, the painting confirms that Kahlo is proud of being a Mexican. On the other hand, her physical pain amplifies under the influence of the nationalist dreams and political strivings that she could never realize. To a large extent, "Fruits of the Earth" represents a drama of a young Mexican woman, who strongly believes that the personal can never be separated from the political. It is one of the many paintings, through which Kahlo is telling the story of her life.
This paper has been developed to analyze one of Frida Kahlo's works. "Fruits of the Earth" has become an interesting and extremely complex object of analysis. Through the prism of Kahlo's life, it is clear that the painting represents both personal and political aspects of the artist's biography. On the one hand, the Mexican fruits reflect Kahlo's strong commitment to nationalism. On the other hand, their red flesh symbolizes the artist's pain and sorrow about her battered body. It is a unique combination of politics and erotic meanings, which reveal the hidden facets of Kahlo's life. The painting brings these aspects together, to enable a strong Mexican woman to open herself to the audience.
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