Frida Kahlo: Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
You ever seen a Frida Kahlo painting in real life? I hadn’t until the museum I volunteer guide for brought her work for an exhibition. Before, my only semblance of Frida Kahlo was a little page in my freshman year of College art history course. It was a photo of “The Little Deer” which is a Frida head on top of a deer body pierced with many arrows in a dying forest with a horizon of blue water in the background.
This isn’t about museums or Frida Kahlo. It is only about a painting and about me and how I finally Saw a painting. Art is like that. It hits when you don’t expect it.
Many of the patrons I guide through the exhibition don’t know much about art or even themselves. They are children from fifth grade to seniors in High School. They are lucky because her art is never seen. I am lucky because I can tell them about the art.
I’ve never been an art snob. I just stroll through the galleries and talk about what I see. I figured Frida would be just another famous artist to talk about. An artist to stroll through and contemplate. Well, I’ve done it all and I’ve learned and talked about it to many people in my capacity as a trained guide. I still don’t know shit about Frida Kahlo.
You know what I did when I entered the exhibition with the curators for the first time? Well, I sat and listened to their endless diatribes about every painting like I usually do, but inside, my heart felt all funky and I got to thinking about the artist who I knew nothing about.
I’d never seen the movie and to be honest, I didn’t even know she was married to Diego Rivera. I didn’t know anything about her except that she was from Mexico and that painting of “The little Deer”. This writeup is about a different painting though. One that hit me in the gut.
This self-portrait is different from most. Frida is facing straight on in the painting. In most others, her head is facing to the side. She is wearing a thorn necklace with some of the thorns piercing her skin. Blood is dripping out. Above her right shoulder is a monkey which was an endearing pet of Frida’s and it seems to be removing thorns from the necklace. Above her right shoulder is a Black Cat with evil yellow eyes. It is crouched and ready to strike. Hanging from the thorn necklace is a drab, dead hummingbird. The background is leafy greens and in her hair are butterfly pins. Above the butterfly pins, suspended in the air are two metal dragonflies with flower heads.
That description is an injustice.
What I mean to say about Frida Kahlo and her art is that her portraits are unbelievable. The colors are abundant and the texture is unreal. But this painting strikes me. It hounds the call of my inner being with her blushed cheeks and bleeding neck. It resonates in the soul like a gut ache on the move.
It isn’t often that a learning about an artist becomes. You may abhor the very knowledge you have assumed in the past and then embrace the feelings that must become. This painting is like that. It is all of it, like letting a snowflake melt in the palm of your hand and remembering what it looked like forever.