Monday, July 6, 2009

Fertility / Infertility

It is natural that representations of pregnant women or of women giving birth should concentrate on the notion of fertility. One can find other images as well. The Mexican photographer Marta Maria Perez Bravo (b.1959) offers a disturbing self-portrait-she is shown threatening her own pregnant belly with a knife. The inscription implies that she does not wish to be reduced to the level of an animal. 
Frida Kahlo (1907- 54), unique in this as in this as in this as in so many other respects, made paintings about her own inability to give birth. Kahol's failure to have children was intimately linked to her whole career as an artist. In 1925, still in her teens, kahlo was involved in a serious bus accident. The injuries she sustained affected her health for the rest of her career and meant that she had to undergo numerous painful operations. It was during her long convalescence from this accident that she first started to paint. Largely self-taught, kahlo based her style on Mexican folk paintings, notably on the retablos dedicated in churches, usually in thanksgiving for the dedicator's recovery from an illness or his or her escape from some other form of danger. Kahlo found in the naive, very direct style of these paintings a vehicle for describing the vicissitudes of her own life. Major themes were her self-identification with Mexican culture and the Mexican people, her stormy marriage to the leading Mexican muralist Diego Rivera( 1886- 1957) and, linked to this, her own inability to carry a child to full term - one of the long-term consequences of her terrible accident. Kahlo's anguish over her miscarriages reflected a sense of incompleteness as a woman which, in turn, was linked in her mind to Rivera's compulsive infidelity. A child would not only make her in her own eyes biologically complete but would also, she thought, make her husband less inclined to stray. 
 What is striking about Kahlo's art is its ability to deal with these especially painful and intimate concerns without the slightest circumlocution. No male artist of her time was able to speak about such matters. It is this ability to go straight to the point and to convey so clearly the extent of her suffering that has created her worldwide posthumous reputation. Diego Rivera, to his credit, always praised his wife's art, but even he might be astonished to see the extent to which her posthumous reputation has tended to surpass his own.  

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