These Tangled Roots: The Pre-Hispanic Influence on Frida Kahlo’s Paintings

Portrait of Lucha Maria, A Girl from Tehuacan, 1942, oil on masonite, private collection

Frida Kahlo possessed a vision that was extremely particular, in terms of both artistic style and thematic representation. Surrealistic depictions of inner anguish and turmoil rendered upon the canvas in naïve strokes, reminiscent of the folk art of her native Mexico. She also used pre-Hispanic symbolism in a celebration of identity that doubled as a metaphor for loss and longing, and with profound effect.

Also known as Diego on my Mind, Frida Kahlo’s 1943 Self-Portrait was painted as a visual representation of the artist’s love and longing for her unfaithful husband Diego Rivera, but it’s what Kahlo is clad in that inextricably ties the piece to pre-Hispanic culture. Kahlo depicted herself wearing the Tehuana dress – a traditional item of clothing from the Zapotec women from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the Oaxaca region.

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