In this self-portrait, Kahlo has cast off the feminine attributes with which she often depicted herself—such as traditional embroidered Tehuana dresses or flowers in her hair—and instead sports a loose-fitting man’s suit and short-clipped haircut. Her high-heeled shoes and one dangling earring remain, however, along with her characteristic penetrating outward gaze. Locks of hair are strewn across the floor, a severed braid lies next to her chair, and the artist holds a pair of scissors across her lap. This androgynous persona may refer to Kahlo’s own bisexuality, while the lyrics of a popular Mexican song that appear at top suggest the address of a lover: “Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don’t love you anymore.” Kahlo and her husband, the artist Diego Rivera, had divorced in late 1939, and the painting indicates both the violence of separation and a newfound autonomy: Kahlo vowed to support herself financially after her divorce by selling her own work.
Personal isolation—its pain and its strength—is a recurring force across the sixty self-portraits Kahlo painted in her career and for which she became celebrated. “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone,” Kahlo once explained, “because I am the person I know best.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Though the Surrealists adopted Frida Kahlo as one of their own, the painter maintained that she did “not know if my paintings are Surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the most frank expression of myself.” She produced numerous self-portraits, each one an articulation of different facets of herself and her eventful life. Kahlo painted Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair in the wake of a particularly tumultuous time, just months after she divorced her famous husband, Mexican Muralist painter Diego Rivera. He had always admired her long, dark hair, which, as she indicates in the tresses littering the painting, she had cut off after their split. She shows herself in an oversized suit resembling the ones that Rivera wore. Through such emotionally and symbolically charged details, Kahlo expresses her feelings about her relationship with Rivera, while also asserting her sense of self as an independent artist.
Additional text from Modern Art & Ideas on Coursera
Kahlo cut her hair short a month after her divorce from fellow artist Diego Rivera, and she painted this self-portrait soon after. Here she depicted herself wearing an oversized men’s suit and crimson shirt—possibly Rivera’s—instead of one of the traditional Mexican dresses that she is often shown wearing. Her masculine haircut and garments contrast with her delicate, dangling earrings and petite high-heeled shoes. Kahlo holds a pair of scissors in one hand and a lock of hair in the other, and her shorn tresses seem to slither and writhe around her. Above the scene, accompanied by a sequence of musical notes, are lyrics from a Mexican folk song that, when translated, read: “Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don’t love you anymore.”
For some, Kahlo may have made this portrait to mourn the absence of her ex-husband, who had been unfaithful (and whom she would remarry by the end of 1940). For others, this image is a declaration of Kahlo’s self-reliance and independence.