The Bodily Interior of Frida Kahlo’s Reproductive Geographies

By Lis Pankl and Kevin Blake.

Published by The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: January 26, 2015 $US5.00

The work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is often read through the simplistic and restrictive lens of her involuntary childlessness. Yet a closer examination reveals that Kahlo adopts a critical stance toward the maternal metaphors that occupy foundational locations on the Mexican cultural map. In a society where the maternal figures of La Malinche (sinner) and La Virgen de Guadalupe (saint) define and confine womanhood, Kahlo provides alternative and revolutionary interpretations through the exploration of her own reproductive geographies. In particular, Kahlo’s dramatic visual representations of miscarriage, abortion, breast-feeding and conception challenge the traditional dichotomy of mother-woman in Mexican culture. Kahlo’s open exploration of woman’s physicality is ground-breaking in and of itself and makes her position as the most significant female artist of the twentieth century even more intriguing. Kahlo’s examination of the woman-mother reproductive landscape effectively breaks the silencing and objectification of women in the advent-grade art world in which she participated and her work continues to speak to questions of body and gender today. In this paper we will locate Kahlo's work within her specific geographic reality and examine how place provides a context for Kahlo's interpretations of womanhood and childbirth. Our work has the potential to undo many of the misreadings of Kahlo's work and life within cultural studies.

Keywords: Place, Gender, Culture

The International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies, Volume 12, Issue 3-4, January 2015, pp.11-24. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: January 26, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 895.653KB)).

Lis Pankl

Ph.D Candidate, Geography Department, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA

Lis is a PhD Candidate in Geography at K-State. Her dissertation explores the critical geographies of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Lis has traveled to Mexico City, London, New York City, and Austin, TX to conduct research on Frida and plans to defend her dissertation in the spring of 2014. Lis has presented her research on Frida at national and international conferences and she and Dr. Kevin Blake published the article “Made in Her Image: Frida Kahlo as Material Culture” in fall 2012.

Dr. Kevin Blake

Professor, Department of Geography, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA

Dr. Blake is a geography professor at Kansas State University, and he specializes in nature-culture interactions, especially in how nature shapes the place imagery and identity of mountain landscapes and the American West. Dr. Blake is a Contributing Editor to Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, which provides literary definitions for over 800 words used to describe the American landscape. For excellence in his academic research on Zane Grey, he received the Charles G. Pfeiffer Award from the Zane Grey’s West Society in 2012. For his “outstanding” scholarly journal articles on mountain symbolism, the Mountain Geography Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers presented Dr. Blake with their Denali Award in 2003. Kevin’s current research focuses on the symbolism of the Colorado Fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation). Professor Blake has received numerous teaching awards, including the K-State Presidential Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching. He regularly teaches World Regional Geography, Geography of Tourism, Geography of the American West, Mountain Geography, and Perception of the Environment.