Frida Kahlo Cultural Identity Essay

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Art allows artists to express their cultural identity and heritage specifically with the use of cultural symbolism. Artists use cultural symbolism to draw on insights from past and existing experiences to express a greater meaning within their artwork. Mexican artist Frida Kahlo uses cultural markers from both Mexico and the United States to show her internal battle when displaced from her home country. Cultural symbols can be illustrated in many different forms and contexts, some being personal and others being well-known worldwide. However, each symbol is equally effective in communicating the artist's identity and encourages the viewer to reflect on how culture surrounds us all.

Frida Kahlo uses several cultural markers, to express her desired longing to return to her Mexican roots. In her work, Kahlo uses different cultural symbols from both Mexico and the United States to showcase the diversity between the two cultures. Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico and her work often expresses and celebrates her Mexican culture by using a variety of personal and famous symbols to connect her own identity with the people around her. After four years of living in the United States, Kahlo desperately wanted to return to Mexico, but her husband convinced her several times to remain in America (, 2011). This sparked the creation of “Self-Portrait at the Border Between Mexico and the US” as Kahlo made the work to protest her husband's wishes. In the painting Kahlo stands directly on the border between the two counties, with numerous cultural markers scattered all around her, to demonstrate that her identity is a combination of both Mexican and American culture. Within the painting, she is wearing a typical Mexican-style dress and holding a Mexican Flag, clearly identifying which country is closest to her heart (, 2011). The combination of industrial and rural cultural markers within her artwork effectively illustrates the setting in which the artwork takes place and thus communicates Kahlo's internal struggle of feeling detached from her Mexican roots. (Udall, 2004). Amid the mixed cultural background, a fire-breathing sun and a lonely moon are embedded with clouds, when they touch a lightning bolt is created. The lightning bolt reiterates an indigenous story about the relationship between destruction and regeneration (Lindauer, 1999). Life and Death is a strong markers in Mexican culture and therefore Frida Kahlo used this concept in many different forms and objects. The placing of a skull on Mexican soil illustrates their belief that bodies are made from earth and return to earth after death. Additionally, with the use of color, the nature on the Mexican side is illuminated with a yellow glow, drawing the viewer's eye and making this side look more inviting. The roots from the flowers also represent the cultural and family ties that link Kahlo to her homeland (Monasterio, 2010). As well, by using fine detail, Kahlo painted one plant root transforming into an electrical cord as it crosses over the border to the US, which then connects to Kahlo’s podium. This communicates a connection between cultures and between nature and industrial materials (, 2011). Thus, may represent Kahlo’s feeling of being connected to the U.S once she is back on her home soil. Unlike the Mexican Side, the U.S is completely devoid of natural elements and is instead a world of industrial devices and pollution. The earth bares no sight of natural materials with the sky being obscured by smoke and the ground being covered in concrete (Lindauer, 1999). These contrasting symbols clearly express why Kahlo felt so detached from her Mexican culture, when away from home. This disconnected feeling was supported when Kahlo said, “The most important thing for everyone in the [United States] is to have ambition and become 'somebody,' and frankly, I don't have the least ambition to become anybody” (Lindauer, 1999). Therefore, Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait at the Border Between Mexico and the US” illuminates her internal struggle and disconnection from her Mexican culture and how even her husband didn’t want her to connect to her roots.

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Overall, cultural markers combined with the artist's personal experiences create meaningful artworks about a certain subject. In doing so displaying how art can communicate one’s cultural identity seen through Kahlo’s artwork. Kahlo’s use of Mexican and U.S cultural symbols helped her express her feeling of detachment from her Mexican roots and find a voice against her controlling husband. Displaying how cultural markers can be illustrated and perceived in many different contexts and forms, and how they can help an individual connect to their true selves and connect overall to their cultural identity.

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Frida Kahlo Cultural Identity Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from
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