Frida Kahlo And Her Family Tree

My Grandparents, My Parents, And I (1936)

My Grandparents, My Parents, And I (Family Painting), a painting from 1936 using Oil and tempera on Zinc by Frida Kahlo (1907- 1954) caught my eye on a recent visit to MoMA. It’s every reason I love art.

To start, it is of course a gorgeous painting. But leaving that aside, this painting has the most interesting story behind it (below). It’s about how an artist can take her life story, beliefs, fears, activism and translate those into art. Frida as you may know, was desperate for a baby which she unfortunately could not have due to her precarious health. So it was impossible for me to not feel a dull ache given the in-utero feel of this image.

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Kahlo collected 18th &19th century Mexico retablos – small paintings on metal made to thank God or saints for curing illnesses and performing miracles – and adopted the medium as her own. In this fantastical family tree, Kahlo depicted herself as a fetus in utero and as a child in her childhood home. While Kahlo celebrated Mexican culture by invoking its traditions in her art and wearing elaborate traditional attire, this painting is as much a tribute to her European and Jewish heritage. On the right is her German – born Jewish father and his parents, symbolized by the sea, and on the left, her Mexican mother and her parents, symbolized by the land and a faintly rendered map of Mexico that appears above her grandparents’ heads. Kahlo was fluent in German and closely monitored the rise of Nazism in Europe. She made this painting shortly after the Nazi Party passed the Nuremberg Laws in Germany, forbidding interracial marriage. While the painting mimics the format of genealogical charts used by the Nazis to advocate racial purity, Kahlo used it subversively to affirm her mixed origins. (To that I say, HELL YEAH. \m/)

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