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Constructing Gender

Explore how artists examine the relationship between gender and society.


Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair

Frida Kahlo
(Mexican, 1907–1954)

1940. Oil on canvas, 15 3/4 x 11" (40 x 27.9 cm)

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.”1

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.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 181

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

An artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.

Rejecting Labels
Frida Kahlo has often been associated with the Surrealists; however, she rejected the label: “I do not know if my paintings are Surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the most frank expression of myself.”1

Multimedia

AUDIO: Anne Umland on Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair