Hopeless by Frida Khalo

Frida Khalo (1907-1954) With her intensely colored and often terrifying self-portraits, Khalo became one of the most famous painters in history. Frida spent most of her life in Mexico City. There, at the age of 18, she had a car accident in which she suffered multiple injuries that left her disabled for life and in great pain. She started painting during her initial recovery. In 1929, she married Diego Rivera, the most famous painter of that time in Mexico. Their relationship was stormy (they divorced in 1939 and remarried in 1940), but it lasted until his death. Apart from painting, politics was their common passion, since they were both communist fighters. Her posthumous reputation has grown so rapidly since the 1980s that her face now adorns various objects, and her flamboyant outfits have made her a fashion icon.

Few painters have created work as intensely autobiographical as Mexico’s Frida Kahlo : 150 of his paintings are known, and more than a third are self-portraits. Some of them are fairly conventional paintings, but many others take a different approach: they are personal comments on the physical and emotional pain in her life. Hopeless shows the artist lying in bed in the middle of an arid landscape, with a disgusting funnel filled with various meats and fish hanging over her mouth. Although small, this image is one of the most powerful and disturbing.

Iconographic analysis

Without Hope (1945) is a small painting (28×36 cm) and at the same time one of the most powerful and disturbing in Frida Kahlo’s production. It represents a banquet of death, where we see the artist resting on a bed holding a huge funnel, leaning against his mouth, from which a putrid mixture of meat and fish pours, crowning all that mass of food with a sugar skull. He thus shows us death represented by the rotting of food, and the emphasis is on the skull – also typical of Mexican folklore – a direct symbol of the end of life.

When she was doing this job, she barely ate, which made her lose a lot of weight. They also fed her through a funnel because she refused to eat. Thus, Kahlo once again shows us a moment from her everyday life, depicting her impressions of everyday life in monstrous dimensions.

The handwritten inscription on the back of the picture is particularly interesting: “I don’t have the slightest hope anymore… Everything moves to the rhythm of what’s in the stomach”.

Formal analysis

The painter’s face has a clear expression of suffering and looks directly at the viewer, eyes full of tears, begging for help. The blanket that covers it resembles a shroud and is decorated with interesting circular patterns. These patterns have been interpreted as eggs or unfertilized cells or, as Hayden Herrera said, in relation to the Sun and Moon, which are also present in the image, it would be a microscopic world compared to the size of the Solar System.

If we analyze the Moon, which leads one of the sides of the picture in symmetry with the Sun, which is on the other side, this satellite has been interpreted as Frida’s own pain, which lasted even in the hours of rest, or it can be read as a female motif, even as a symbol of Kahline fragility. The sun plays a major role in the composition, which emphasizes the influence of pre-Columbian art in the artist’s work, where the cult of the sun is very current. She often uses it as a reference to energy, but in this case it could be interpreted as a reference to Diego Rivera, her partner and husband for years. Finally, the background of the composition shows a desert, dry landscape, where we can read an allusion to her infertility and lack of offspring.

Four elements that stand out from the table:

1. Expression of pain

Frida looks at the viewer with a pleading look, while tears flow down her face. Only her head and shoulders are outside the sheet, which helps convey the sense of constriction. At that time, Frida was actually forced to spend most of her time in bed, wearing an orthopedic vest. The artist underwent more than 30 operations during his life.

2. Day of the Dead

The huge funnel used to feed the painters is overflowing with a sickening mixture of meat, fish and poultry. The idea of ​​the funnel as an instrument of torture (as shown in the picture) was probably borrowed from a book about the Spanish Inquisition. On top of the pile of raw food is a Mexican sugar skull with the artist’s name on it. These skulls were common on the Day of the Dead and their role in the painting is to allude to death, while sugar represents the sweetness of life.

3. Sterile bottom

The landscape depicted in the painting is a parched desert and has been interpreted as a reference to the artist’s sterility. The injuries she suffered when she was 18 prevented her from having children.

4. Moon and Sun

On the sides of the picture there are images of the moon and the sun. One of the interpretations of the presence of these symbols is the painter’s constant pain, which lasted day and night.

Context and social situation

Frida’s meticulous style, her integration of juxtapositions and her ability to make the ordinary extraordinary have led many artists and art critics to call her works surreal. However, the artist always rejected this claim, saying that she paints her personal reality, not her dreams.

This is how Frida Kahlo is presented to us, as a free spirit. Over the years, her image and her presence on the art scene became particularly rare, but she was undoubtedly an artist who pushed aesthetics beyond the traditional canons of beauty and achieved her own style in transforming her own image of reality.

Today, and especially since the 1980s, her name and her work are taken over as part of the revaluation of the work of female artists by the feminist movement. Today, she is admired for her passion and the originality of her production, as well as for her great and strong spirit that allowed her to overcome a life full of suffering and made her a symbol of overcoming and perseverance.


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