Death and the Machine: Some thoughts on Frida Kahlo

Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne (circa 1589–1662) 
The death's head, and especially the skull, has been an image of foreboding throughout history. It is said that the skull and crossbones motif originated with the Templars, to signify their ready acceptance of death in the service of Christ. Pirates have used the symbol, as well as the Braunshweig hussars and English Lancers, who used it to symbolize their disregard for both their own lives and their enemies'. Indeed, the Braunshweig hussars went into every battle dressed in black, in mourning of their dead leader. So much death in the world, so much pain and suffering. There is that old joke about the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. And indeed, death is a major theme in Mrs. Frida Kahlo's work. While Kahlo may have been haunted by the specter of death all her life, she acknowledges it is an inescapable fate.

Death is inescapable, just as the machine is inescapable; the Industrial Revolution has struck and there is no turning back. Frida's paintings portray the United States as a mechanized country that, though industrialized, is dull and dead. By contrast, Mexico is a vivacious agrarian nation that still has that organic spirit. This is part of that nationalistic spirit that is  on the rise in this time period in Mexico. It says that though the United States may be more industrialized and may possess more economic power these are empty triumphs, for in the race to mechanize the United States had lost its spirit that Mexico retains in its agrarian workers, who remain closer to the earth.

However, rather than preach the power of the proletariat, as her husband Diego had with his monumental murals, Kahlo's painting is too introverted, too personal, exploring the depths and recesses of her own self rather than seeking to overwhelm the viewer; rather than didactic political sermon, Kahlo's is an exploratory art.