At Our End Is the Beginning: Death as the Liminal Real in the Art of Frida Kahlo

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Book Chapter

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It is not always a comfortable experience to view the art of Frida Kahlo: her paintings have been described alternately as bewitching, bizarre, brutal, surreal, self-indulgent, seductive, unfathomable, and defiant.1 Howsoever exasperating or provocative her paintings, there can be no doubt that Kahlo confronts her audience with all the complexity, confusion, anguish, and anxiety of the human condition, which she articulates often with representations of the female human body as it is visited by physical trial and trauma. Kahlo does not accord insignificance or even finality to such trauma: on the contrary, her depictions of corporeal distortion and bodily disfigurement are more akin to visual meditations on the inevitable dissolution of physicality, especially human physicality, and on the pervasive reality of death, the omnipresence of which Kahlo insists on revealing in her art as the signature foundation of all human experience and the preternatural essence of all material existence. Having come close to death (if not actually having died, briefly, to which Kahlo herself alluded in her work) after an horrific accident, as well as having experienced in her life other forms of intractable human mortality such as difficult miscarriages and daily physical pain and emotional distress, Frida Kahlo was sensitive to the lingering trace of death everywhere.2