Marina Abramovich and Frida Kahlo: Bodily Pain and Art

Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

Bodily Pain and the Myth of Beauty

The body has been a fascinating subject for art since the early ages of humanity. Its image is a constant source of concern and attention in real life, as well. Art can be an excellent tool to understand our body as it deals with it.

Representing the body conceptualized it in terms of physical, psychological, and cultural influences. Especially in the 20th century, the social aspect of the bodily image, as well as the inner side of our corporeal being came to the fore, the subject of art gradually shifted to social issues, the rise of conceptual art. Philosophical and sociological approaches on the body began to differentiate the approaches to its aesthetics.


The Good, The Ugly, and The Pain

The concepts of beauty and ugliness as aesthetic values are two crucial concepts while contemplating about art. The word beautiful is an adjective we usually use to denote something likable. In some periods of history, there was a connection between beauty and the good. Inevitably, something beautiful and good speaks to our desires. 

People also tend to make similar assumptions about ugliness. Many has described ugly as the opposite of beautiful. Although we percept beauty as something natural, we have used the term ugly for ill-favored things.

What are the reflections of the discussion about the beautiful and the ugly in real life? Many people have worries about their bodies at certain times in their lives. People instinctively want to know whether their body is beautiful or pleasing. So, what is the basis of these perceptions of beauty and ugliness?




The body is not perfect and smooth and can even bear traces of pain. To illustrate, Marina Abramovich identifies the body with the experience. Her works in the ’70s aim to experience the limits of the body by moving it away from a conscious state as physical aggression. 

Abramovich has turned her body into an object in her countless performances. She tried to explore the mental limits of the human body and mind by questioning the concept of pain and physical violence. The artist has reached her goals such as spiritual purification with the physical pain.






Kahlo's work 1944

The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo, 1944


Frida Kahlo is also one of the painters reflecting their pain through art. There are nearly 70 paintings of Frida Kahlo. A large part of it consists of self-portraits. She experienced a lot of physical and spiritual pain in her life, and she reflected them in her art. Her most famous works are paintings that she represents the body as injured and fragmented.

 Kahlo suffered from a damage to her spinal cord due to an accident she had, and she had to live in bed for years with various tools in her body. She drew the reflection of her injured and “ugly” body, which she saw from the room ceiling, by beautifying it with flowers and ribbons. Kahlo’s work includes life and death, the disintegration of the body and the mind’s integrity, the dilemma between traditional and modern, and the dilemma of reality and expectations.










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