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Pitahayas

Frida Kahlo

1938

óleo sobre aluminio / oil on aluminum

29 1/4" x 33 1/4" (framed)

“It is fuchsia on the outside and hides the subtlety of a whitish-gray pulp flecked with little black spots that are its seeds inside. This is a wonder! Fruits are like flowers: they speak to us in provocative language and teach us things that are hidden.”
—Frida Kahlo

Drawn from the artist’s garden, Pitahayas refers to the five bright pink fruit in the center of the composition. Kahlo painted the arrangement on a piece of metal in the style of an ex-voto—a small devotional painting on tin in the Mexican folk art tradition. These religious paintings were typically commissioned by a person giving thanks to a saint or divine entity after suffering from an illness or experiencing tragedy. Kahlo had a large collection of ex-votos that covered the walls of her home and studio.

In this context, Kahlo’s unassuming still life can be read as a personal allusion to her rise from tragedy that culminates in immense gratitude for her life and successful artistic career. The personal iconography she imbued in her work often referenced the intense physical pain she endured as a result of contracting polio in 1913, a tram accident in 1925, and suffering multiple miscarriages. Within this framework, Kahlo often depicted vegetation as a symbol of fertility and regeneration. She also drew directly from medical textbooks—one of the pitahayas is sliced directly in two and mirrors a dissected cell undergoing cellular division. Throughout this small oil painting are references to the artist’s preoccupation with the life cycle, regeneration, and her conviction that life fertilizes death.

Pitahayas evolved over time and in 1939, upon her return from exhibiting in Paris, she learned her husband, fellow artist Diego Rivera, wanted a divorce. Kahlo changed the expression of the skeleton from a smile to a frown. Much like the pitahaya, with its delicate, fleshy center concealed inside a bright pink exterior, Kahlo embedded a deeply personal history in this painting, suggesting the work is not only a still life, but an intimate self-portrait.

Credit

Donación de Rudolph y Louise Langer / Bequest of Rudolph and Louise Langer