Sarah M. Misemer
University of Kansas

The Body as an Icon in Art and Life: Performances by Frida Kahlo

The transformation of the icon from the religious arena to the secular one of popular culture can be seen over the centuries. The gradual metamorphosis and comingling of elements from the religious and the secular is particularly interesting in the figure of Frida Kahlo. Borrowing from the practice used in ancient Christian religious art work of representing biographical episodes from the lives of famous biblical figures, Kahlo chose instead to use her own image and an autobiographical approach to transform herself into an iconic figure. Recently, many have begun to use the iconic figure of Kahlo to represent Mexican culture, as well as the cultures of other countries such as Argentina.

Perhaps the iconic quality surrounding Frida Kahlo is what makes her so popular at the close of the 20th century. Her shifting and flexible identity make her attractive to authors and audiences at the close of the millennium because Frida can and does represent a variety of issues that many living in the post-industrial, post-modern culture of the 80s and 90s contemplate. Of particular interest is the play Frida written by the Argentine playwright Ricardo Halac. I examine how a figure so tied to Mexican culture, history and politics would appeal to an Argentine audience. This play has a very clear focus on the political aspects that governed Kahlo’s life, as well as the suffering that she endured as a result of her illnesses and accidents. As a result, Kahlo embodies many of the same metaphors for suffering and healing that the Argentine body-politic experienced during the last two decades.