1924 - 1945

Parallel lives: Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gil

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Explore the coincidences between the life and work of two of the most important women artists from Mexico and India.

Frida and Amrita
Two women. Two artists. Both women were interested in painting people of colour in their respective countries. Both artists expressed femininity and melancholy in their works. Both became iconic despite the male dominated world of art and proved to be much ahead of her times. Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gil were not just contemporaries but also shared similar attributes.

Amrita Sher-Gil was born in Budapest on January 30, 1913, to an Indian Sikh father, a photographer Umrao Singh Sher-Gil and a Hungarian mother.

Frida Kahlo was born to a German father and a Mexican mother.

Both as young girls, both women were exposed to their respective cultures which vastly enriched their work and self-expression.

Frida's father Guillermo Kahlo Kaufmann, was a photographer, just like Amrita's. Both their fathers often portrayed their respective family members through photography, a style that was easily picked by both daughters. Both artists as young girls freely learnt the art of self-portraiture and went on to develop it as a distinct feature of their respective oeuvre.

Frida Kahlo was born in July 6th, 1907, but she liked saying she was born in 1910, the year the Mexican Revolution started, as she wanted to be linked to that moment in Mexico's history.

Amrita’s birth also took place on the eve of First World War and she grew up in Budapest.

After studying painting in Europe, Amrita returned to India in early 1930s. She traveled to South India and started portraying the daily life scenes she found along her tour, following what she called her artistic mission to depict the life of Indian people through her canvas.

Frida was devoted to paint not only Mexican people, influenced by Diego Rivera, but some markers of Mexican culture, such as animals, fruits, flowers and pre-Hispanic figures.

For women artists in the 1930-1940s it was not usual to portray themselves naked. Amrita's "Self-Portrait as a Tahitian" (1937) was a strong statement of how Amrita wanted to express what women, femininity and the ideas of empowerment meant for those times.

For Frida it was common to portray herself and to tell her life story through her paintings. Amrita painted nude self-portraits, also subtly demonstrating the emotional and physical pain she was going through.

This painting is called "The Broken Column", and it represents how damaged her body was after the bus accident.

Amrita had a performative yet playful way to incorporate various Indian attires as part of her identity and persona. She approached saris and other traditional clothing to reveal her charismatic and mysterious side. Frida had a similar approach to clothing as she used used to wear textiles from Mexican indigenous origin, which contributed to her enigma and shaped her personality. For both, this was also a way to share how proud they were about their origins.

By portraying themselves, Amrita and Frida expressed their self-consciousness of being artists and women. They were very critical about themselves, and tried to reflect exactly what they lived, felt, wanted and were passionate about.

Their love lives were turbulent and full of anxious upheavals experimentation. Both of these artists experienced relationships with men and women, but eventually Amrita married her Hungarian first cousin, Dr. Victor Egan. Meanwhile Frida made an explosive couple with muralist Diego Rivera.

Frida's body was very damaged after the polio and the accident she suffered. Eventually she suffered a couple of miscarriages.

Amrita also had a couple of abortions, which probably weakened her body and made her susceptible to a pneumonia attack that led her to an eventual early death.

Amrita died in December of 1941 when she was just 28 years old and days before opening her first major solo exhibition. Her life was short, but very prolific, as she left a huge body of work, now considered National Art Treasure in India.

Frida died a few days after her 47th birthday, in July 13th, 1954, and a year after her major solo exhibition at the Galería de Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City. Frida’s paintings are considered National Heritage in Mexico.

Amrita and Frida were unconventional women and artists, who left an important mark in the art history of the 20th century.

Credits: Story

Bibliography:
- "Amrita Sher-Gil: A life", by Yashodhara Dalmia
- "Amrita Sher-Gil. The Passionate Quest", catalogue of the National Gallery of Modern Art collection.
- "Frida Kahlo. An open life", by Raquel Tibol
- "Frida. A biography of Frida Kahlo", by Hayden Herrera.


Image courtesy for some of Amrita Sher-Gil's works hosted under Kiran Nadar Museum of Art's collection:
- From the Estate of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil
- From the Estate of Amrita Sher-Gil
- From Collection: Navina & Vivan Sundaram

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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