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Perceiving Activity: A perception of Frida Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Cropped Hair”

I chose to pick a specific painting that I would show or use in my Spanish class to introduce and teach my students about 19th Century Mexican Art. I really enjoy Frida Kahlo’s art and I think that she shows  many different perspectives of Mexican culture and self-portraiture through her work.

As I was exploring which piece I specifically wanted to work with, I was thinking about what may open the minds of my students and question some of their own thinking about norms and normative behaviors. Which is why I chose to re-imagine Frida Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Cropped Hair” from 1940.

Here’s the original piece:




At the time that Frida created this piece, she was divorcing her husband, Diego Rivera (another famous Mexican artist) who had been unfaithful to her (Source: MOMA).  My original thoughts and perceptions of this painting was that Frida was expressing her more masculine-of-center side. The side of her where she could and would feel more independent and maybe even do more (especially in the ‘40s and in Mexico).  I honestly took the painting as a way to express a feminist perspective on the “machismo” societal views of Catholicism in Mexico and the times of 1940s.  A viewpoint which was very gender-binary, you were either male or female, no middle ground and on top of that, masculinity was much more valued than femininity.

For the most part, when we look at a painting or piece of work we analyze or perceive it as it is. What does this painting do for us? What is this painting telling us? What is the story behind this painting? Often times we question the artist, asking them why the artist painted it the way they did and what does it symbolize? And we even question what kind of emotions are evoked when we look at this painting?  To re-imagine this piece of work, I decided to do the opposite and think about what it was like to be Frida Kahlo in that painting.  What was she thinking, feeling, seeing, doing?  And what was Frida’s perception sitting in the chair looking back out?  What was she wanting to tell the viewer about her feelings and emotions at the time of this creation?

In my re-imagination, I wrote out spoken word (poetry) and playing around in GarageBand on my computer, I created some music with loops to put behind the following spoken word: Link to Frida Perception Activity.

As I’m sitting here, peering out into an empty home.  

Thinking about every beautiful moment we had together.

Ruined by your unfaithfulness.  

I sit here with your ruined perception of my beauty.

I say goodbye to my hair.  Goodbye to my traditional clothing and goodbye to your words:

“Mira que si te quise, fué por el pelo, Ahora que estás pelona, ya no te quiero”

 “See, if I loved you, it was for your hair, now you’re bald, I don’t love you any more.”.

The faint smell of fresh empanadas and mole linger in the background as I cut every inch of my silky black hair.  Falling to the floor, each lock of hair unties me. Letting me be free, letting me be who I am as an independent person. Independent from your norms and the norms of our people.

I sit here before you with a lingered pain but also a feeling of freedom and comfort.

This loose suit just barely grips my shoulders and waist. In a way that doesn’t force me to sacrifice the person I have always been.

And for that, thank you for what you have done.  For now I am who I am, independent of who you are, both as a man and as an artist. I can sit here, perceived as an equal.

Originally, my thought of what perception is, is the idea of how we initially look or view our outside surroundings. However, after this module, I am understanding that perception is more than just visual. It includes perceptions using all of our senses — hearing, smelling, thinking and touching. Perception can also push the boundary of what we are perceiving physically and try to flip ourselves into understanding what that person or thing we are perceiving is perceiving upon us (like an inception).

I really enjoyed this module because it pushed me to think beyond what I normally do for my own classroom.  I want to take this activity and give my students an opportunity to pick pieces of art and instead of looking at what the art tells them, have them come up with their perception from the art’s perspective.  I’d even try to get them to write their own poem, spoken word or rap; and then teach them GarageBand and how to create a music to accompany their spoken word.