Kahlo, Frida (Mexican, 1907-1954)

The Broken Column

Reference Type:
As the result of a serious accident that occurred when she was eighteen, Frida Kahlo suffered multiple setbacks, operations, and hospital stays throughout her life. At various times she wore corsets made of a variety of materials, which is how she represents herself here. In spite of the copious tears on her face, Kahlo’s expression is one of defiance, even though her body is literally split in two, held together only by the steel corset. If it were removed, she would physically fall apart. In the place of the spinal column is a cracked ancient pillar, normally a symbol of strength and endurance. The little capital at the top supports her chin. The title relates to an entry in her diary: “to hope with anguish retained, the broken column, and the immense look, without walking, in the vast path…moving my life created of steel.” One of the most moving aspects of this work is her totally perfect breasts and arms, surrounded by the pain and suffering. The sheet that covers her lower body and the nails that pierce it refer to the pain of Christian martyrs. However, Kahlo is not comparing herself to them—she used Christian references like she used Aztec or any other, choosing those she thought would best convey what she wanted to express. But unlike Christian martyrs, she could not supplicate God for assistance or strength since she was not a believer. As she looked in the mirror to create this work, she knew she was looking at the only person who could help her. The solitude is expressed in the setting, as she sits all alone in the middle of a barren plain—barren and riven like her own body, unable to create new life. There is an ocean in the far distance, which might have represented hope, but she certainly cannot reach it in her current state. When Kahlo was in the hospital, she joked with the staff, sang, created art, and tried her best to put on a good front. How she really felt about her situation often came out only in her art. She is a good example of what is called in the medical field “the good trooper,” the uncomplaining easy patient whom health care professionals glorify. Kahlo’s art suggests the price the trooper pays for this presentation—isolation, loneliness, and silent suffering. Notes by Dr. Linda Pessar and Mariann Smith
Art of Medicine
Attitude of Patients
Body Self-image
Chronic Disease/Chronic Illness
Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico