Kahlo, Frida (Mexican, 1907-1954)

Henry Ford Hospital

Reference Type:
In May of 1932, Frida Kahlo was in Detroit with her husband Diego Rivera, who was working on a mural commission. Finding herself pregnant, Kahlo considered an abortion for several reasons: due to physical problems caused by an accident earlier in her life, it was uncertain whether or not she would be able to bear children; the timing was inconvenient; and her husband, who had children from his previous marriage, did not want any additional offspring. Kahlo eventually decided to give it a try, and two doctors agreed that there was a good chance of success. Sadly, she lost the baby in a long, painful, drawn-out miscarriage that put her in the hospital for 13 days. It was in response to this that her best-known way of painting emerged—the combination of real life and experience, subjective feelings, and fantasy. In Henry Ford Hospital she’s lying naked on her bed, crying, and bleeding profusely onto the sheet. She holds six ribbons that look like veins, all attached to things that relate to what was happening and her feelings about it. A fetus, which turns the ribbon into a kind of umbilical cord, floats above the pool of blood. It is male, since she was hoping for a little Diego. She later explained that the abdomen on the pedestal was her way of describing the insides of a woman, but instead of a uterus and other reproductive organs are her injured pelvis and spine, which were preventing her from bearing a child. She drew the very detailed pelvis from diagrams in a medical book. The snail, she said, represented the slowness of the miscarriage, which happened over a period of time. The orchid looks a bit like a uterus and/or a heart and is based on an orchid Diego brought her while she was in the hospital. The sixth ribbon leads to an unidentifiable piece of machinery, which could represent the equipment in the hospital or, as she later told a friend, express the mechanical aspects of the process. Not only is she suffering both physically and emotionally, she is suffering alone. The bed, rather than sitting in a hospital room that undoubtedly had some warm and homey qualities, is instead positioned on a vast brown and empty plain. In the distance, the industry of Detroit lines the horizon, cold and uncaring. Notes by Mariann Smith
Art of Medicine
Collection of Dolores Olmedo Mexico City, Mexico