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Compare/Contrast: The Two Fridas and Tar Beach, Part I, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 756

Essay

Artists Frida Kahlo and Faith Ringgold, while representing different ethnicities, backgrounds, and approaches, share aspects reflecting several elements of 20th century expression. On one level, Kahlo’s Mexican heritage and Ringgold’s identity as an African American woman clearly influence the styles of their work, certainly in subject matter and specific focuses on the culture of each. Then, the two artists exhibit a kind of primitivism that in turn reflects postmodernism; they challenge the conventions of modernism through a return to basic forms, albeit of a dramatic kind. Lastly, both women assert a feminist, or postfeminist, voice in their scrutiny of the role of women in their societies. In The Two Fridas and Tar Beach, Part I, Frida Kahlo and Faith Ringgold employ postmodern and postfeminist lenses to explore the identities of women of singular settings and backgrounds.

Culture is as prominent in Kahlo’s painting as the unmistakeably autobiographical essence of the work. Kahlo’s European and Mexican ancestry (Author page) is blatantly evident in the duality of self, as one wears traditional European costume and the other a Mexican. If the effect is overt, it is still powerful, indicating the force of culture as shaping individual identity. This influence is reinforced by skin tone; the expressions of the faces are virtually identical, but the Mexican Frida is darker, so the power of each culture as defining is emphasized. Ringgold’s Tar Beach, Part I reflects African American culture, but loosely. This is African American life as lived on an urban rooftop in Harlem, and perhaps the most interesting aspect is that the scene could reflect any native culture transplanted to a city setting. More exactly, there is the sense of a universal tribalism as the people eat and rest, and the washing hangs by them. Fusing the native with the urban before a platform of stars, Ringgold then all the more emphasizes the native cultural identity as paramount.

With regard to the other shared aspects of the works, there is an inevitable connection. Postmodernism and feminism share the quality of compelling an appreciation of difference (Author page), certainly in terms of perspectives removed from mainstream traditionalism and/or masculine views. Both paintings present postmodernism by means of a “compromise” of sorts; the classic is acknowledged in form and proportion, yet the primitivism and overt presentations of the subjects embody an intent to challenge these elements in a modernist, and almost defiant, way. Ringgold’s does this in an accessible fashion, the starkness of her images muted by the domesticity of the scene itself. The woman and child on the blanket, for instance, and particularly as seen from a high angle, are simultaneously safe and at peace, and potentially victims. So too do the borders of quilting create a comfort element while all the more highlighting the lower background of gray, complex city. The quilting also reflects the freedom such artists felt in the mid-20th century to employ unusual materials, a nod to modernism within the postmodernism. With Kahlo, the approach is more challenging; her dual self-portrait virtually mocks traditional portraiture, just as the images of herself are both realistic and stylized.

The postmodernism then enables the feminist, or postfeminist, statements made. It is more postfeminist in each case, in fact, because there is more questioning than actual statement made. In Tar Beach, Part I, there is a sense of the woman’s traditional role maintained even on this artificial “beach”; protective maternity is expressed by the woman and child lying together, as the kerchief on the head of the seated woman indicates female domesticity. Kahlo’s postfeminist questioning in evident as well, but more severe. She both has her heart whole and is lacking it, the man in the held miniature ostensibly responsible for the dual state. The ambiguity reinforces the postfeminism, in that there is doubt as to how complete the woman may be after being wounded by the man. Thinking then shifts as portrayed by the artists, and each seems to reveal women, not to declare, but to inquire.

As The Two Fridas and Tar Beach, Part I are deceptively complex works, it is impossible to clearly define aspects which are not reflective of others. That is the nature of good art, in fact, and these paintings present this sort of expansive opportunity. In each, elements of cultural identity, gender, and postmodern approach go to creating canvases both essentially primitive in composition and layered in meaning. In The Two Fridas and Tar Beach, Part I, Frida Kahlo and Faith Ringgold employ postmodern and postfeminist lenses to set forth the mysteries of women of their cultures.

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