Certain landscapes can touch the individual, affecting them not only on a physical, but personal and emotional level. Often when painting, artists exploit powerful stories of landscapes in a subjective manner, either purposely or accidentally manipulating audience impressions. Frida Kahlo, an artist of the early 1900s, consistently exerted her influence by transcending her personal pain and emotional suffering through cultured symbols. Kahlo’s Mexican ancestry had a strong influence on how and why she painted. Her use of signs, symbols and codes to represent her heritage were used as visual language to exploit her mutilation and trauma.
Kahlo’s autobiographical piece, Self Portrait with Monkey, represents the indelible emotional bonds that her native country tied to her. The dense symbolic Mexican imagery; monkeys, braided hair and indigenous costumes, indicated the influence that her country had throughout her profound experiences. Kahlo used a variety of complex imagery, ranging from indigenous sources such as European-derived colonial precedents, as well as Aztec and Christian symbolism. She included this imagery in a desire to revalue metaphors and create new and different perceptions. Kahlo was mesmerized by the importance that monkeys played in Aztec’s world. They were represented as gods of fertility; a topic that highly intrigued Kahlo. The monkeys were a perfect symbol of transgressive sexuality and fertility. They were known for their audacious lasciviousness.
Kahlo’s painting style was careful and controlled, with each insignificant stroke creating a stark contrast to the subversive and violent motifs. Kahlo’s physical suffering; the horrific traffic accident, extensive injuries, several miscarriages and amputation, encouraged her depression and emotional turmoil. Kahlo explored the depths of her personal stress by painting images she knew best. Her cultural metaphors and symbols allowed the audience to understand her and her countries social values.
Critics later would baffle Frida as a surrealist, but she constantly denied to be part of that movement, “I thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams, I painted my own reality.”. Kahlo did not simply rely on her physical damage for subject matter, but the emotional construction of herself. Her paintings were of her own psychic state of mind. Their flamboyancy was so personal and self-referential that it helped women with prejudice overcome adversity, feeling the need to paint their own lives.
Through Kahlo’s physical damage, she learnt and understood herself on a deeper level; spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Her Mexican heritage helped Kahlo open up, and the Mexican landscape became integral to her emotional journey documented on her canvases. Kahlo’s physicality in the landscape is fundamental to her emotional experience. An individual’s emotional damage can be a symptom of the significance that the landscape presents.