Saw snatches of Frida. Then found more of her. They say her self-portraits were unsparing. Frida was a woman who let that trace of a moustache stay, the fuzz resonant of an adolescent boy’s. But she is so woman, so perfectly formed in her tragedy, so bloody self-destructive…when I look her in the eye, I want to poke into the retina, go behind it and see through her eyes. I know I will see what she sees.
Now go beyond Frida the person and look at her as an objective artist doing other paintings. She was once commissioned to do a portrait of the actress Dorothy Hale that was to be gifted to her mother; Hale had jumped from her high-rise apartment wearing a black dress and a corsage of small yellow roses.
Frida did something extremely literal. In The Suicide of Dorothy Hale she recreated that scene, which has been described thus:
Freda’s painting documents the various stages of Dorothy's fall, placing the corpse at the bottom on a stage-like platform in the foreground. At the bottom, blood red lettering details the tragic event:
"In New York City on the 21st of October 1938, at 6:00 in the morning, Dorothy Hale committed suicide by throwing herself from a very high window in the Hampshire House. In her memory [...], this retablo was executed by Frida Kahlo."
I have often said I do not like in your face kind of art. Would this qualify? And if it does, why am I then fascinated? Because I think of this as beyond art. It is capturing human history.
And yes, tall buildings, standing at the edge, I do imagine a fall…a free fall…and cloud-like images, feathery, surrounding me. Once, some years ago, driving through a busy residential area in Delhi the traffic was moving slowly…my eyes looked at the building and suddenly I spotted a woman on the terrace…that one portion did not seem to have any wall. She was at the very edge, her white kurta fluttering. I gasped. I tried to roll down the window, but what would I do? If I shouted maybe she would fall. I just kept watching for what seemed an eternity; she was laughing and talking, perhaps someone was behind her; she was checking the water tank. And then she was gone, not down but away.
How different is it from falling? How different is it when things disappear, people disappear? Did she, a water-tank checker, deserve a story? If I were an artist I might have shown her falling, laughter pasted on her face, teeth reflecting the sky. But that white kurta was so me, that standing at the edge and laughing was so me…so when I gasped and looked, was I seeing myself?
When will I stop peeling other people’s skins and finding my skin …a patch here, a patch there?
When Frida painted Hale it is said she was separated from her partner and was thinking about suicide. Was it reflective of her? The term “male desertion” is mentioned in some analysis.
I think she would be deserting herself. Each time I go through my reclusive phase, I am doing that.
Death is a technicality. Dying everyday most days or a little bit is that fractured life I often speak about.
Would my mosaic be as colourful? Would it be a mosaic at all? I think it would be just drops of water reflecting whatever surface they fall on.
Imagine if one such drop reflects a tear? Would it be possible to see it?
Invisibility. I mentioned disappearance, did I not?
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Paintings by Frida Kahlo: A Fractured Life (self portrait) and The Suicide of Dorothy Hale