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Goldsmith, M. (2004). Frida Kahlo: Abjection, Psychic Deadness, and the Creative Impulse. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(6):723-758.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(6):723-758

Frida Kahlo: Abjection, Psychic Deadness, and the Creative Impulse

Marlene Goldsmith, Ph.D.

In the final paragraph of Hayden Herrera's (1983) biography of Frida Kahlo, she describes the artist's last work, painted shortly before her death at age 47, when she was ravaged with illness:

In it, set against a brilliant blue sky that is divided into lighter and darker halves, are watermelons, the most loved of Mexican fruit, whole, halved, quartered, and otherwise carved into pieces. The paint is laid on with far more control than in other late still lifes; shapes are solidly defined and composed. It is as if Frida had gathered and focused what was left of her vitality in order to paint this final statement of alegria. Sliced and chopped, the pieces of fruit acknowledge the imminence of death, but their luscious red flesh celebrates the fullness of life. Eight days before she died, when her hours were darkened by calamity, Frida Kahlo dipped her brush in blood-red paint and inscribed her name plus the date and place of execution, Coyoacan, Mexico, across the crimson pulp of the foremost slice. Then, in large capital letters, she wrote her final salute to life: VIVA LA VIDA. (p. 440)

According to Diego Rivera, Frida's husband and the world-reknowned Mexican muralist and Communist, Frida is one of his country's greatest painters; however, her biography reveals that, unlike so many creative individuals, she did not grow up with a passion for painting. As a young adult she intended to study medicine. A bloody and brutal accident, which left her with lifelong incapacitating illnesses and a disintegrating body, irrevocably altered her path. Painting emerged in her life as a response to trauma, illness, loss, and the agonies inherent in her marriage to Diego. It was a way of creating psychological alive-ness from out of the numbness and deadness arising from her many tragic life experiences. During her lifetime, as the preceeding quotation shows, life and death were always mingled.

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