Tag Archives: western art

Postcolonial Thoughts: Frida Kahlo and Surrealism, part 1

by Christopher Hutchinson


Frida Kahlo was a Mexican Surrealist painter who has achieved international popularity. She typically painted self-portraits using vibrant colours in a style that was influenced by cultures of Mexico as well as influences from European Surrealism. Her self-portraits were often an expression of her life and her pain.



Surrealisms’s love of the exotic

Id, ego, and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction our mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.[1] The super-ego can stop one from doing certain things that one’s id may want to do.[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Id,_ego_and_super-egos


Surrealism’s interest in the exotic begins initially with surrealism’s art mission to be the artifacts of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories. The exoticism presented in Freud’s Id became surrealist illustrations of the “primitive” from a Western perspective. Initially, accessing the “primitive” was merely a jumping off point, to access the inner psyche that was not so heavily governed by the stifling rules of Western painting. This use of the “primitive” is the second overtly appropriation of Africa from the West within a 20 year span from Picasso’s Cubism/African art. The “primitive” of surrealism is slightly different than the direct appropriation of Picasso. It is cloaked in the entitlement of Freud’s writings. Freud gives the surrealists permission to investigate the “primitive” that lies dormant within all humanity. We just have to access it.

This principle of Freud brings about terrible surrealist works that play on this Id/primitive concept “juxtaposed” its binary, the “norm”. Carefully composed compositions that have a jarring effect simply because object and images are not unified in a linear way. Jamming two things together that doesn’t relate to each other in any way is not an exploration. It is not a development of an aesthetic. It is at best a one-liner never to be thought of again, at its worst the work just gets swallowed up in the litany of icons like the yin and yang, tragedy and comedy symbols, and it leads ultimately boring work. It is amazing that this juxtaposition method still exists.

This photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse’s head next to an African ceremonial mask bears a title that references both the black and white process of photography as well as skin color. It was created at a time when African art and culture was much in vogue. The oval faces of the two almost look identical in their serene expressions, but he contrasts her soft pale face with the shiny black mask. He simplifies the conflict of society into a problem of lighting and imagery in aesthetics – one oval next to another oval; one laying on its side contrasted with another that is erect; one lit from above and the other from the side http://www.wikiart.org/en/man-ray/black-and-white


Is Frida Khalo’s exotic inclusion to surrealism valid?


Adjective 1. of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized: exotic foods; exotic plants. 2. strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance: an exotic hairstyle. 3. of a uniquely new or experimental nature: The flower show included several tropical exotics with showy blooms. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/exotic

The surrealist intentionally tried to be as exotic as possible as an indicator of their Id/primitive quality. Is Frida Kahlo purposefully attempting to be exotic? Is her every day dress a costume? Is she exotic to herself? Of course not. What has occurred here is not unique by any means to Western history. Kahlo is forcefully adopted into a vernacular that is not her own, yet she still paints honestly.   Kahlo is not just jamming things together and hoping they create something new.


As with all Western discoveries, the indigenous contribution is eliminated, leaving just a whisper of a name in reference to its origins.   This forceful adoption into surrealism negates Kahlo’s actual contribution to painting. It negates her conscious choices as an artist. It negates Mexico’s ability to produce such an artist of equal standing responding to her time. It not only negates; it also validates the West’s investigation into the primitive.

Kahlo becomes proof that this Western surrealist investigation into the Id/primitive is an unbiased valid pursuit by the West. The desperate stretch to include her in such a dialogue is obvious when one considers Salvador Dali as one of the premier surrealists. Kahlo is Not Dali. Mexicans are not Spaniards. If the goal were truly to unleash the Id/primitive why wouldn’t surrealists look to African art and artists? Dali tried everything outlandish to connect with that Id/primitive by dressing and consuming the exotic. When Dali dresses up, it is a costume. Most of the surrealist artists do not succeed in more than an illustration of the Id/primitive, which in fact is ego, not Id, and sometimes especially in Dali’s work, super-ego. They do not achieve an actual connection to Id. Dali did his best to calculate and present the Id/primitive from a super-ego viewpoint.


Kahlo’s paintings are a reflection of an honest narrative. She has a direct relationship with every image and object in her pieces. These objects are not juxtaposed to have psychoanalytical discussions; often times these objects are images that are needed at the moment. Including Kahlo into the canon of surrealism suggests her imagery and objects are random thoughts, playing out a clever Freudian dreamlike state.



The stretch to tie Kahlo’s work to surrealism has more to do with using the indigenous to validate Western academia. It is a continuation of a foundation laid in romanticism’s Death of general wolfe. Benjamin West’s general has an indigenous native placed to witness and give credence to West’s good nature. The native sits beneath in a solemn respect his place not equal to the general slightly lower and of little concern.

When Kahlo is forcefully adopted into a surrealist dialogue, she actually becomes the exotic native in The death of general wolfe. Kahlo placed at the feet of surrealism only to prove its good nature, slightly lower. Once she is placed in the context of surrealism, it prevents a real analysis of her work. Kahlo’s work is honest; surrealists don’t care about honesty.


Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.


Postcolonial Thoughts: Art & the Origins of Supremacy

by Christopher Hutchinson


To Winckelmann, the art of Rome was an afterthought. The pinnacle of ancient art had been achieved in fifth-century Athens, whose democracy was the root cause of her excellence. The decline of art began with the establishment of the Hellenistic kingdoms following the death of Alexander. The moral lesson to be drawn from ancient history was not the danger of pagan hubris but rather the superiority of democracy.



Art & Supremacy

From its inception art history has been tied to Supremacy.  Johann Winckelmann, author of the first History of Ancient Art 1764, whose sentiments are stated above, set the rubric as to what could and should be considered art. Many assume that art history has always been in existence. Truthfully it officially begins with Winckelmann and Neoclassical thought.  True to Neoclassical thought, there can be only one way to achieve art, and is through Democracy.

This democracy has been one of the major reasons why Greece has become the go-to standard as the beginning of art praxis.  This allows a global nullification of art produced by second and third world countries.  Winckelmann’s democracy becomes synonymous with supremacy.

It is completely logical that the art of the Third Reich would adopt the standard of supremacy set by Winckelmann. Even the rebirth of humanism laid in the Renaissance and art movements that follow after, have a conceptual tie to that superiority that cannot be overlooked.  The linear practice of Western art theory/methodology has these roots. Hitler was aware of this obvious relationship.  His crowning achievement, after dominating the world, was to be his Museum of Art.

The museum was to have occupied the majority of the city center of Linz, turning the working-class town into Vienna’s cultural superior, a concept that Hitler had relished ever since his failed attempt to become an art student in Vienna, a city that made him feel like a rejected, second-class citizen, prior to his political career  



Art & Propaganda


: ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.

1capitalized :  a congregation of the Roman curia having jurisdiction over missionary territories and related institutions

2:  the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person

3:  ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also :  a public action having such an effect


The Ziegler painting installed above the mantle of Hitler's apartment. The Judgement of Paris by Ziegler http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/uploadedImages/articles/2074_Guggenheim785848.jpg

The Ziegler painting installed above the mantle of Hitler’s apartment. The Judgement of Paris by Ziegler



Art of the Third Reich has often been linked with the term propaganda as something negative.  Propaganda is usually perceived as the binary opposite to democracy. This would be the traditional understanding, except for the seamless transition Hitler’s propaganda and the history art already present.  Ziegler’s direct appropriation of Ruben’s Judgement of Paris 1636 is a testament to the farce of democracy. How could this be propaganda, when this narrative was already present?


Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.


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