As some of you may know, I am also an artist working with mediums such as acrylic, oil, gouache, tempera, oil and soft pastels, bronze and gold leaf, collage, paper, charcoal, and ink. Most of my paintings involve repeating images, bursts of colors, and dream-like images resembling woven tapestries. This is the first painting that I have completed interpreting my disability. Previous attempts at representing my accident and the subsequent struggles with my illness on canvas have ended incomplete—collecting dust in the closet waiting to be covered in white paint to create something else. I guess I have always felt that the chronic illness and pain that I manage daily is always with me. It is there with every stroke of the brush as I lie on the ground, on my side, or on my stomach my upper body encloses the canvas from which I work. So, why paint it when I can create something as far removed from my body as possible? This is a philosophy I have carried until a recent long and frustrating pain flare.
The name of this blog is “Para Las Fridas” translating into For the Fridas. It is a dedication to a woman who lived before me in chronic pain. A woman I came to know well through reading three biographies and her letters and journal texts while sequestered to month’s long bed rest to reduce the swelling around my spinal cord. I could look at the television or at empty space which was a difficult thing, indeed, for a once energetic academic and human rights defender. It was through Frida Kahlo’s art, words, and life that I began to realize that exercising independence after an injury, disease, disability, or disfigurement was also a human right. “For the Fridas” is also a commitment to shining a light on the issues and battles’ surrounding my own disability and it is a dedication to all of you that cope so bravely with illness and pain.
It is not difficult to understand why Kahlo felt that her accident was a death and a rebirth transforming her at age eighteen from an erudite student with an interest in becoming a doctor to an introspective artist revealing deeply personal, exploratory, and dramatic imagery of her body, pain, sorrow, humor, relationships, and political influences. However, her referring to her accident as a “rebirth” was much more than symbolic. The accident that broke her spinal column in three places, collarbone, ribs, her leg in eleven places, crushed and dislocated her foot, cracked her pelvis in three places, and impaled her abdomen with a steel handrail, left her totally nude—a collision so violent that it unfastened her clothes. Powered gold, carried by a house painter on the bus, fell over her body. She came into her second birth in the same manner as her first: naked, bloody, and forced to explore, learn, and live with a new reality. She could never bring herself to paint the accident—the place she was born. She stated that fateful day changed her life so dramatically she could never reduce it to a single image. There is only one drawing she created of the day she was twice delivered. “The Grand Staircase” is a representation of my rebirth. It is dedicated to that twenty-two year old woman moments before she fainted and fell down a staircase in August of 2006. It is homage paid to and painted for that eighteen year old girl seated on the back of a crowded bus seconds before it collided with an electric train in the month of September, 1925. It is dedicated to you, the year of your rebirth, the moments before, and the struggles in its aftermath.