Partially an expression of admiration for the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, this piece was created as a painted letter which I addressed to her. It felt appropriate to make the work in this form due to the often very personal and lyrical themes within her work.
The body of the letter, i.e. the painting itself, was created with Kahlo’s ’Self-portrait with cropped hair’ (1940 MoMA) in mind. I chose to work within a very similar scale to the painting in question when viewed unframed, utilising similar compositional elements. In both paintings a female figure sits centre stage on a straight-backed chair, in costume, with hair being a central theme.
Created after the artist’s divorce from her husband Diego Rivera, Kahlo depicted herself dressed in a man’s suit, her long hair cropped and strewn about her on the floor. This was an action which I always interpreted as being both of independence and loss. In donning a suit Frida ultimately divested herself of her other implied costumes and roles.
Having had very long hair in the past I was interested in reversing the work. Symbolically ‘growing’ out my own shortly cropped hair so that it became once again a heavyweight down my back. Wearing a confining and luminous red dress. Red attracts the eye but it can also be a very violent colour. For me, it seems to be a very literal colour of womanhood and our cyclical biology that is denoted by red.
Where Kahlo chose a costume that symbolically liberated her from her previous gendered role, I chose one which I felt reflected the gendered assumptions I had inherited, as had the women who preceded me. In doing so, I wanted to present the limits of these different costumes and how inadequately they define the complex human beings who inhabit them.
‘A liminal space’