Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Las dos Marianas

Las dos Fridas, 1939
Frida Kahlo
Since I was a little girl I can remember struggling with my own sense of identity. As the daughter of a Nicaraguan mother and a Guatemalan father born in California, I often wondered what my position within American society is. Am I American? Am I Latina? Do I speak English or Spanish better? It seems like I was never American or Latina enough. If behave a certain way and my mother will say, "¡Ay que Americana eres!" (Oh, you are so American!) or maybe I am with my American friends and I will hear, "Oh, you are so Latina!" I used to think this was some kind of struggle that would eventually end for me, that one day I will find my place within society but here I am twenty-nine years later still caught in some type of purgatory of cultural identity.

Las dos Fridas
I don't remember how I learned of this painting or even how old I was when I first saw it but what I do know is how profoundly this image affected me even without knowing who Frida Kahlo was. What I can tell you is how this image followed me like a silent ghost in the recesses of my unconsciousness until I was about sixteen years old and picked up a book at my high school library during lunch one day and experienced Gestalt's "aha" moment. There it was, this image that had embodied my experience of cultural identity on a page staring back at me like a reflection of some vague notion living within me.

On the surface it is obvious that the image is of self-conflict, Frida Kahlo finds herself torn between two identities. On the lefthand side is the European influenced Frida. She is dressed in a white dress of European influence with little flowers located on the bottom border. In her righthand she holds a pair of scissors attempting to stop blood from dripping onto her dress from a vein. There is an open cavity in her chest where we see her visible heart that is cross-sectioned and is connected to the vein dripping onto her dress to the Frida to her left. The Frida on the righthand side is the Mexican Frida, she is wearing the traditional indigenous garment of Mexico (specifically Mexico City area). Her chest cavity is also opened but unlike the Frida on the left, her heart is complete and in her lefthand she is holding a tiny photo of her husband Diego Rivera. At the very epicenter of the painting both Fridas are joined by the hands reinforcing Fridas double penetrating stares onto the viewer. While analyzing this image not only are the two Fridas a direct reference to her internal conflict of identity but it also speaks in symbolism. The gray cloudy background only adds to the sense of confusion and uncertainty.

I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that this image spoke to "little" Mariana, my rebel and turmoiled Mariana, and now adult Mariana. There is something in me that has not changed even after all these years. I am still lost in my sense of cultural identity. I do not feel a citizen of any country or part of any culture. Although I do identify with certain parts, I am not faithful to any. I will never be Latina enough. I will never be American enough. Case closed.

So where do I go from here? Lately, I have been having some guilt about my studies. I am starting to feel a traitor to my Latina side. After all, I am so involved with the study of European art and as if this were not enough, I have become somewhat obsessed with European life. I can speak fluent Spanish, advanced Italian, moderate level of French and more obviously, I speak fluent English. My whole life is a representation of the colonization and domination of European culture, to only be reinforced by American imperialism. Sitting in my classes, I feel so departed from my Latina identity. Who have I become? What is the importance of identity?

Las dos Fridas has been on my mind lately. These are some of the questions that this painting deals with, Frida Kahlo is asking herself about her position in society, her identity as a woman, and artist. She was a socialist, an advocate of the indigenous groups, she dealt with the conflict of her unfaithful husband--she was struggling with a multifaceted struggle of her identities. Her figure is parted into two physical parts but these two selves contain other smaller parts of identity. I don't want to go too deep into further analysis of these smaller parts which depart from my purpose but they are certainly worth exploring at some point.

I conclude this thought with this: I want to do my honors thesis on Frida Kahlo. I am not sure what I want to do or what the goal of this thesis will be but I feel a moral obligation to write about her. I know a part of this exploration is personal but the personal often times transcends to a greater population. I know that my confusion of cultural identity is a commonplace occurrence of 1st generation born Latinos. We struggle with our sense of identity, with the duality of the cultural components that formulate Latin American identity itself and because art is a reflection of the human experience, it is this that has inspired my desire to further explore Frida Kahlo and her cultural significance in the history of art.

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