Frida Kahlo, wife of Rivera, a painter herself (Frida Kahlo in her bed) by Gisèle Freund

Gisèle Freund

Frida Kahlo, wife of Rivera, a painter herself (Frida Kahlo in her bed), 1952, Gelatin-silver print, 20 x 19.3 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Given by John and Judith Hillelson, E.85-2003, © IMEC, Fonds MCC, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Gisèle Freund / Art Resource, NY

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Creative Convalescence

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The woman of Shunem could not have known that the bed or couch that she placed in the room she built for Elisha would one day also be the location of the prophet’s restoration of her dead son to life. This simple piece of furniture, originally intended for rest became a site for the prophet’s holy work.

The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo spent a lot of time in bed. She contracted polio at the age of six, which led her legs to develop unevenly. A tram accident at the age of 18 caused major injuries to her spine. As a result, Kahlo experienced great physical pain and discomfort on a nearly daily basis, and underwent over 30 operations during her lifetime. Her body required frequent medical attention and the supportive aid of orthopaedic corsets, prosthetics, and devices (Wilcox & Henestrosa 2018: 13, 30, 78). Consequently, much of Kahlo’s life involved convalescence in bed.

Yet the artist’s bed was also her stage and studio—a site for exercising her boundless creativity and imagination. Kahlo had an easel attached to her bed, allowing her to paint while lying down. She also had a full-length mirror fixed to the bed’s canopy so that she could see herself when she painted the numerous self-portraits for which she is now most famous.

Kahlo’s artistic repertoire went beyond canvas. She painted on her plaster corsets; fixed her hair into elaborate coiffures; wore elaborate jewellery and garments; and applied makeup and nail polish to accentuate her features (Wilcox & Henestrosa 2018: 121–26).

Gisèle Freund’s photograph shows Kahlo fully dressed, with rings on her fingers and enamel on her nails. On the table beside Kahlo’s bed are towers of books and baskets filled with cosmetics and other personal effects. There is even a miniature toy bed in which several dolls are tucked beneath a crocheted blanket. Like the bed made for Elisha the prophet, this bed was not only a piece of furniture included for the purposes of rest and recovery, but also a place of immense life-giving creativity and self-expression.

 

References

Wilcox, Claire and Circe Henestrosa (eds). 2018. Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up (London: V&A Publishing)


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