Frida Kahlo, “The Broken Column (Self-Portrait),” 1944
Frida Kahlo hated being referred to as a Surrealist. She didn’t view what she was painting as surreal, rather she “painted [her] own reality.”
In 1925, at just 18 years old, Kahlo was in a horrific bus accident, in which she was hospitalized with several broken bones, including her spinal column. An iron rod also pierced her uterus, permanently preventing her from having children. (She later had three miscarriages.) This was devastating for Kahlo, and the rehabilitative process left her bed-ridden for months, during which time she learned to paint. She often drew from this painful experience to paint her new reality, in which she often depicted herself still wounded.
This piece in particular functions as a window into Kahlo’s world, in which her spinal column is a literal, exposed column that has been fractured into smaller pieces. Her spine, which once held her erect, now must be supported with a brace. (When she painted this, she was forced to wear a brace, which she described as a “punishment,” to support her back) Her features are also exaggerated, particularly her eyebrows and facial hair, perhaps also a look into the way she saw herself.
Her face is covered with tears, and her body is covered in nails, clearly a reference to the pain she’s undergone, emotionally and physically. It is easy to empathize with this suffering woman. However, she did not mean for this painting to be completely melancholic. In each of her eyes is painted a small “dove of peace,” a “little joke on pain and suffering.”