The artist Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) was a Mexican painter, perhaps best known for her self portraits.
Although known for her combining of colorful and traditional Mexican dress, the artist also liked to challenge gender convention. When she was a young woman, for example, she posed defiantly in family portraits in androgynous attire.
She was also infamous for her affairs with both men and women, drinking, smoking, and swearing.
Frida was once described as ‘A Ribbon and a Bomb’.
Kahlo created her work “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair” (1940) after divorcing her unfaithful husband Diego Rivera.
It is a portrait of the artist crossing boundaries in terms of her eras contemporary dress codes as defined within the limitations of gender construction. The work is not only in retaliation to the divorce, but as an act of female defiance and pleasure. By wearing her ex husband’s suit in the painting Kahlo claims the social, artistic and economic privileges of her male partner. He had gained much fame as a male artist, while Kahlo’s success in the art world as a female artist was only granted posthumously. In the painting Frida also subverts the meaning inscribed into all constructed ‘masculinity’ by claiming her own authority, freedom and independence.
The lyric at the top of the work reads “Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don’t love you anymore”.
The act of cutting her hair short emphasizes her own symbolic and empowered gesture of estrangement from both husband and the trappings of ‘femininity’. Within the work Kahlo holds the scissors and is therefore in control.
She highlights her female power.
She holds the scissors at castration level.