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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Sustainable Prospects – Considering Others – Frida Kahlo

“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”

– Kahlo (Frida Kahlo, 2017)

Known for her self-portraits, Frida Kahlo used masks in some of her paintings to hide her pain and suffering. Kahlo suffered from polio as a child and suffered many broken bones in an accident. (Frida Kahlo, 2017).

“My painting carries with it the message of pain”

– Kahlo (Frida Kahlo, 2017)


Figure 1: Kahlo. Girl with Death Mask. 1938

In figure 1, Kahlo painted herself as a child wearing a skull mask. This type of mask is traditionally worn on the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’. During the festival, death and the ancestors are celebrated. The painting is quite sinister with the innocence of the child juxtaposed against the death mask and the vast empty field in which she stands. The girl stands next to a large carved wooden mask of a tiger. As Kahlo noted “both masks seem not appropriate for the innocent tiny little girl and are symbols or hint for the cruelty of her destiny.” (Frida Kahlo, 2017)


Figure 2: Kahlo. The Mask. 1945

In the painting in figure 2, Kahlo painted herself wearing a mask. Her actual face is not revealed and we are unable to determine what she is thinking or feeling. Her gaze peers out from behind the mask. The mask style leads us to believe that Kahlo is slightly mad. Her own hair is visible behind the purple hair of the mask so that we know it is her wearing the mask.

In much the same way as the participants in my current work hide behind their mask, Kahlo is eluding the viewer when she is wearing the mask. Her pain is concealed behind the mask. We can only see what she allows us to see. The holes for the eyes are small; they are so small that we cannot see her eyes clearly enough to interpret what she is feeling.

The face we see is a different face to Kahlo’s. The mask hides the pain and suffering that she faced. Yet the style of the mask and the decoration of it allows us to glimpse at the level of sadness and despair that she is hiding behind it. This is in much in the same way as the words on the masks of my volunteers suggest the pain that they suffer and what they are hiding away from.


Frida Kahlo. (2017). Frida Kahlo: 100 Famous Paintings, Complete Works, & Biography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].


Figure 1: Frida Kahlo. (2017). Girl with Death Mask, 1938 – by Frida Kahlo. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Figure 2: Frida Kahlo. (2017). The mask – by Frida Kahlo. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

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