Self-Portrait with Monkey (16”x12”), is an oil on masonite painting created by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in 1938. Frida Kahlo was born on July 6th 1907, in Coyoacan, Mexico City, Mexico. Kahlo had lived a normal childhood until the young age of six when she developed polio. Polio had caused one of her legs to grow smaller than the other leading her to get bullied by her peers and drove her to isolate herself. Later in life, she enrolled in National Preparatory School in Mexico City where she pursued her career goal of becoming a physician and where she would meet her future husband, Diego Rivera.
But her life would forever soon change one day when she was returning home from school; a bus Kahlo was riding crashed with a trolley which resulted in near life-ending injuries to Kahlo.
This crash had left her with several broken bones, a broken spinal cord, broken ribs, broken pelvis, and most devastating an iron handrail had impaled her pelvis.
This left her bedridden after months of surgery, during this time she found her artistic creation. Her early works consisted of self-portraits, paintings of her friends and sisters. At the time she was heavily influenced by European Renaissance artists such as Sandro Botticelli. While Kahlo was bedridden she wanted to delve into exploring her identity and existence. Kahlo had stated that her recovery and time alone while bedridden had made her aspire “to begin again, painting things just as [she] saw them with [her] own eyes and nothing more”.
Kahlo was going to paint not only the world she saw but also how she sees herself in the world.
The subject matter of Self-Portrait with Monkey is Kahlo looking beyond the viewer is of the painting with her hair braided and pulled to the top of her head and wearing a necklace made of bones connected by a red cord. A monkey resting on her shoulder with its arm resting on her other shoulder. Kahlo is sitting in from of lush foliage with the Mexican landscape surrounding her. Kahlo’s collection of self-portraits was motivated by her desire to explore not only her character but her life experiences and what those life experiences did to change her. The use of symbols such as the monkey, bone necklace, foliage, and hair show Kahlo’s self-exploration into herself. The monkey is a symbol of lust in Aztec mythology which has played a heavy role in several of Kahlo’s self-portraits. The contradictory symbols of the pulled up hair showing her identification with the peasant culture and the symbol of lust in the monkey showing her alter ego she only expressed through her art.
Other Aztec symbols used throughout some of Kahlo’s other self-portraits consists of hummingbirds, which represent the blood of Aztec warriors and connect to her through the blood she shed during her miscarriage and trolley accident. The necklace made of broken bones is a reference to the trolley accident that had broken several of her bones and nearly killed her. The foliage adds a sense of entrapment as it covers almost all of the landscape which could be a reference to Kahlo feeling trapped either in a particular place, emotion or time. Kahlo’s self-portraits act as much more than telling us who she is, it gives us a perspective in the change and hardships he is experienced through life. The title of Kahlo’s self-portrait is direct and informs the viewer that you are looking at Frida Kahlo the same way she looks at herself. There’s an importance in including the monkey in the title as