This work has been requested for the Frida Kahlo exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of her birth being organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (in association with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). The exhibition will open in Mexico City (June-September, 2007) followed by a tour with stops in Minneapolis (October, 2007–January, 2008); Philadelphia (February–May, 2008) and San Francisco (June–September, 2008). A fully illustrated catalogue will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. Curated by Hayden Herrera and Elizabeth Carpenter.
Eduardo Morillo Safa, Mexico City
Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City
Acquired by the present owner (1982)
"The green miracle of the landscape of my body becomes in you the whole nature. I fly through it to caress the rounded hills with my fingertips, my hands sink into the shadowy valleys in an urge to possess and I'm enveloped in the embrace of gentle branches, green and cool. I penetrate the sex of the whole earth, her heat chars me and my entire body is rubbed by the freshness of the tender leaves."
"El milagro vegetal del paisaje de mi cuerpo es en ti la naturaleza entera. Yo la recorro en vuelo que acaricia con mis dedos los redondos cerros, penetran mis manos los inebrios valles en ansias de posesión y me cubre el abrazo de las ramas suaves, verdes y frescas. Yo penetro el sexo de la tierra entera, me abrasa su calor y en mi cuerpo todo roza las frescura de las hojas tiernas."
- Frida Kahlo
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, January 13-March 5, 1978; La Jolla, Mandeville Art Gallery, University of California, April 7-May 17, 1978; Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, June 9-July 23, 1978; Austin, University Art Museum, The University of Texas, August 13-October 1, 1978; Houston, The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, October 14-November 19, 1978; Purchase, The Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, December 8, 1978-January 14, 1979; Frida Kahlo (1910-1954), n.n., p. 27, illustrated, p. 133
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, March 26-May 2, 1982; Berlin, Haus am Waldsee, May 14-July 11, 1982; Hamburg, Kunstverein, July 29-September 12, 1982; Hannover, Kunstverein, September 26-November 7, 1982; Stockholm, Kulturhuset, November 19, 1982-January 30, 1983; New York, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, March 1-April 16, 1983, Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti, n.n., p. 71, illustrated in color
Madrid, Salas Pablo Ruiz Picasso, Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), April 30-June 15, 1985, no. 22, p. 179, illustrated, p. 189
Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, June 28-September 13, 1987; Flushing, The Queens Museum, October 10-December 6, 1987; Miami, Center for the Fine Arts, January 15-March 4, 1988; Mexico City, Centro Cultural Arte Contemporáneo, March 25-May 22, 1988; Art of the Fantastic: Latin America 1920-1987, no. 26, p. 287, illustrated in color, p. 87
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, The Private Eye: Selected Works from Collections of Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts, June 11-August 13, 1989, p. 107, illustrated in color, p. 69
Berkeley, University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley, Anxious Visions: Surrealist Art, October 3-December 30, 1990, p. 286, illustrated in color, no. 79, p. 69
Antwerp, Royal Museum for the Arts, America, Bride of the Sun, 500 Years of Latin-America and the Netherlands, February 1-May 31, 1992, fig. b, p. 479, illustrated in color
Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, March 6-May 23, 1993; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, June 6-August 29, 1993; The World of Frida Kahlo, no. 47, p. 267, illustrated in color, p. 133
Madrid, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundación “la Caixa”, February 12-April 27, 1997; Barcelona, Centre Cultural de la Fundació “la Caixa”, May 14-July 27, 1997; Tarsila do Amaral, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Peláez, no. 42, p. 179, illustrated in color, p. 135
Switzerland, Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo, January 24-June 1, 1998, no. 22, p. 205, illustrated in color
Tokyo, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, July 19-September 7, 2003; Osaka, Suntory Museum, September 13-October 19, 2003; Nagoya, Nagoya City Art Museum, November 1-December 21, 2003; Kochi, The Museum of Art, January 4-February 22, 2004; Women Surrealists in Mexico, no. 33, p. 90, illustrated in color
London, Tate Modern, Frida Kahlo, June 9-October 9, 2005, n.n., p. 225, illustrated in color, pl. 50, p. 156, detail illustrated in color, fig. 100, p. 78
Hayden Herrera, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, New York, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1983, no. XXVII, p. 494, illustrated in color, p. 294
Rauda Jamis, Frida Kahlo, autoportrait d'une femme, Paris, Presses de la Renaissance, 1985, n.p., illustrated in color
Araceli Rico, Frida Kahlo, Fantasía de un cuerpo herido, Mexico, Plaza y Valdés Editores, 1987, p. 97, illustrated
Martha Zamora, Frida el pincel de la angustia, Mexico, Laboratorio Lito Color, 1987, p. 325, illustrated in color
Helga Prignitz-Poda, Salomón Grimberg and Andrea Kettenmann, Frida Kahlo, Das Gesamtwerk, Frankfurt, Verlag Neue Kritik, 1988, no. 88, p. 251, illustrated in color, p. 144
Leslie Sills, Inspirations, Stories about Women Artists, Georgia O'Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Alice Neel, Faith Ringgold, Illinois, Albert Whitman & Company, 1989, no. 26, illustrated in color
The Seibu Museum of Art, Frida Kahlo, Tokyo, Nissha Printing Co., 1989, pl. 42, illustrated in color
Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, New York, Thames and Hudson Inc., 1991, no. 132, p. 249, illustrated, p. 148
Hayden Herrera, Frida Kahlo: The Paintings, New York, Harper Collins, 1991, p. 92-93, illustrated in color
Edward J. Sullivan, "Frida Kahlo," and Janice Helland, "Frida Kahlo: The Politics of Confession," Latin American Art, December, 1991, p. 35, illustrated
Malka Drucker, Frida Kahlo, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1991, p. 113, illustrated in color
Hayden Herrera, Frida Kahlo, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1992, pl. 10, illustrated in color, index to colorplates, twice illustrated in color
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Crosscurrents of Modernism: Four Latin American Pioneers, Washington, D.C., The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992, fig. f, p. 33, illustrated
Robyn Montana Turner, Frida Kahlo, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1993, p. 27, illustrated in color
Robin Richmond, Frida Kahlo in Mexico, San Francisco, Pomegranate Artbooks, 1994, p. 44-45, illustrated in color
Keto von Waberer, Frida Kahlo Masterpieces, New York, W.W. Norton, 1994, pl. 28, illustrated in color
Salomon Grimberg, Frida Kahlo, Greenwich, Brompton Books, 1997, p. 99, illustrated in color
Yolanda Crespo Díaz, Frida Kahlo Vida y Obra, Una Interpretación Psicológica de sus Diarios, Cartas y Obras, Panama, Editorial Portobelo, 1997, p. 26, illustrated
Isabel Alcántara and Sandra Egnolff, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Munich, Prestel Verlag, 1999, p. 78, illustrated in color
Sharyn Rohlfsen Udall, Carr, O’Keefe, Kahlo, Places of their Own, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000, no. 105, p. 163, illustrated in color
Teresa del Conde, Frida Kahlo La pintora y el mito, Barcelona, Plaza & Janés Editores, 2001, pl. 7, illustrated
Gannit Ankori, Imaging Her Selves, Frida Kahlo's Poetics of Identity and Fragmentation, London, Greenwood Press, 2002, no. 50, illustrated
Helga Prignitz-Poda, Frida Kahlo, The Painter and Her Work, New York, Art Publishers Inc., 2004, p. 60, illustrated
OTHER SOURCE: Julie Taymor, Frida, 123 min., Los Angeles, Miramax Films, 2002, featured at the end
Roots, 1943, is one of Frida Kahlo’s least anguished and most beautiful self-portraits. Like its counterpart, My Nurse and I, 1937, it is a passionate expression of Kahlo’s deep identification with nature. In the earlier painting Frida is an infant suckling at her Mexican Indian wet nurse’s plant-like breast. From this earth mother, she imbibes not only her Indian heritage, but also the essence of her native land. In Roots, on the other hand, it is Frida who nourishes that land by giving birth to a vine. Curiously, given the painting’s title, the vine has no visible roots. It must, therefore, be rooted in Frida, but Frida, floating just above a barren landscape and painted in a much larger scale, is rootless, as in a dream.
The year she painted Roots, Kahlo was engrossed in a project that would bind her to her husband, Diego Rivera, and that would connect both spouses to the Mexican earth. In 1942, on a piece of land bought with Kahlo’s money in a section of Mexico City called the Pedregal (meaning stony ground), the Riveras began to build a temple for Rivera’s collection of pre-Columbian idols. They called it Anahuacalli, meaning house of gods. Rivera said that during the war years Anahuacalli was “home” for himself and Frida. Kahlo adored the Pedregal’s rough, uningratiating expanse of grey, pitted rocks, and it is this landscape that appears in Roots. A few years later, when the museum was finished, she wrote that, “like the magnificent terrain on which it is built, it embraces the earth with the firmness of a living and permanent plant.” So too, does Frida embrace the vast sea of dry, volcanic earth in Roots, which, a decade later, she titled El Pedregal.
Creating bonds with Rivera, be they political, artistic, domestic or social, was crucial to Kahlo. Two years before she painted Roots she had remarried him after a painful year of separation. She remarried knowing that their relationship would remain difficult and that it would be based on the idea of mutual independence. As she put it, “Being the wife of Diego is the most marvelous thing in the world…. I let him play matrimony with other women. Diego is not anybody’s husband and never will be, but he is a great comrade.” But even as she insisted that Rivera should be free, Kahlo kept trying to hold him. Her need for possession can be seen in another work from 1943, Self-Portrait as a Tehuana. Here Kahlo has captured her husband as an obsessive thought represented as a miniature portrait in her forehead. As in Roots, strangely animate tendrils that could be veins or roots grow out of the tips of leaves, seeming to extend Frida’s life force out into space.
A third 1943 self-portrait that gives insight into Kahlo’s state of mind at the time she painted Roots is Thinking About Death. She has placed a skull and bone set in a desert landscape upon her brow. To accentuate her despair, Kahlo closed in space with a wall of leaves, the serrated stems of which have blood-red thorns that echo the zigzag pattern on her Tehuana blouse. According to scholar Gannit Ankori, this is the same plant that Kahlo depicted in Roots. Called Calotropis procera, its large veins are filled with a poison that was once used by Latin American Indians to commit suicide.
The stems of the vine in Roots, however, have no thorns. Instead this vine has thirteen cut off stems. These leafless stems might stand for Kahlo’s losses—her unborn children, her wounded body, her lost loves. The image recalls the truncated branches in Kahlo’s 1947 drawing, Ruin, which, she said, stood for Rivera’s infidelities.
Roots can be seen as a straightforward image of a childless woman’s dream that her torso opens up to give birth to a vine through which her blood flows into the parched Mexican earth. Certainly Kahlo’s fascination with roots and her need to root herself in the earth became all the more intense in 1932, when she suffered a miscarriage and realized that she would never bear a child. In Self-Portrait Dreaming, drawn shortly after she miscarried, Kahlo lies naked in a hospital bed dreaming of rooted objects—a leaf, a hand—and of her long hair turning into roots. Like the veins, ribbons and strands of hair seen in so many of her self-portraits, roots express Kahlo’s longing for connection. In almost all of her self-portraits she is alone, disconnected from anything but herself. Her need for connection encompassed a vision of the interconnectedness of all things—animals, plants, rocks, sun, moon and human beings. In some of her late still lives Kahlo depicted the sun’s rays as roots linking the life-giving sun to the fruit of the earth.
In Roots Kahlo’s vine grows right through the window in her womb-less body. All of the leaves move toward us as if we, the viewer, were the source of light. By means of her vine, Kahlo reaches out to us, demands our attention. As she fixes us with her steadfast but impassive gaze, she insists that we confront her predicament.
If Roots is a dream of oneness with nature, it also has somber overtones. Kahlo could be dreaming of roots growing through her body after death. As her blood flows into the earth, she seems to accept mortality. Just in front of her the earth cracks open forming a dark ravine. At her feet a volcanic boulder that resembles a skull floats in a grave-like crater. Similarly, a ravine opens up in front of the skull in Thinking About Death, and in Tree of Hope, painted after Kahlo underwent a spinal fusion in 1946, Frida the heroic survivor and Frida the victim are trapped between a precipice and a grave. The ravines cut between waves of igneous rock in the backgrounds of Kahlo’s self-portraits suggest explosive feelings. But in Roots Frida levitates above the earth, refusing to be overwhelmed.
In The Broken Column, painted the following year, the artist’s split torso is echoed by the crevassed land, and a broken ionic column replaces Roots’ vine. Here again, Kahlo refuses to capitulate to death or pain. For Frida Kahlo, there was no running away from mortality. Ever since her near fatal bus accident in 1925 she felt death as a constant companion. In The Dream, 1940, yet another painting closely related to Roots, Frida lies dreaming of death while a vine that begins in the embroidery on her bedspread, sprouts roots at her feet and leaves around her head. Her counterpart, a paper mâché skeleton, is equally entwined. As we explore Roots’ many layers of meaning, we are brought back to everyday life by the reassuring bed pillow upon which she props her elbow.
In Roots Frida dreams of fecundity even as she seems to relinquish life. She lets life go with equanimity, perhaps with the kind of pleasure we might feel during those moments when, embraced by nature’s beauty, we are not afraid to die. Roots holds in precarious balance themes of birth and death, contentment and pain, fulfillment and loss, connection and solitude. It may even hold a message of love. In one of the letters to Rivera that she wrote in her diary, Kahlo said, “my blood is the miracle that travels in the veins of the air from my heart to yours.”
Hayden Herrera, New York, 2006
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