Why do women paint themselves?


Recently I came across a book in our university library on history of self-portrait paintings with a focus on women. With all the excitement firing up inside me, I opened it all I saw were white faces painted by white female artists. Not even one image of Frida Kahlo! The queen of self-portraits!

The first time I heard about Frida Kahlo was when my GCSE art teacher showed me a book on her self-portraits. I was fascinated by how brutal and beautiful her paintings were. The colors of Mexican nature contrasting against her beautiful brown skin! It was the first time I had ever seen a woman artist! But not only she was a woman she also looked like me! We had the same skin color and for me that was revolutionary. It taught me a lot about my own abilities, like it didn’t matter that I was a girl, I still could become who I wanted. An artist, a painter, and capture my body on canvases.

But why is it that women paint themselves? Perhaps going back to centuries of our bodies being captured by men might help. All I ever saw in art before being enlightened by feminist ideology, were object painted by men and some times women painted by men, titled “Prostitutes”. Doesn’t that suggest women are equal to Van Gough’s chair? To be painted by a male hand and then consumed and used just like a chair?

“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best. ” – Frida Kahlo


As a woman painting my body really helped me to fall in love with it, as art helps us to fall in love with the unseen. I painted my flaws and loved them even more when they were on a canvas. Frida does the same, she expresses the elements women are told not to show, such as ”Hairiness”. Painting ourselves as women truly helps us to say to this society, we are more than naked, skinny, clean and pale female bodies delicately painted by men covering walls of your expensive galleries. We have visions and how we see our selves is the only truth.

What also fascinates me about Frida is that she wasn’t ashamed of her culture and made us all fall in love with it too. As Ethnical minority artists maybe we ought to express more of our culture in artwork, but are sometimes are discouraged to do so.

Personally sometimes I feel like no one cares about where I come from and how that inspires my work. All the great authors and artists I spent years studying back home have left me now because they feel excluded and unwanted by what I have surrounded myself with.

And in university it’s difficult to find tutors who have any knowledge on your particular culture, so when in comes to creating art for your degree show how can you feel like you are being taken seriously?

Maybe putting a brave face on a canvas and staring into their souls with your big black eyes and bushy eyebrows, and reclaiming your history from a non divers/misogynistic art history which still hasn’t allowed you to claim one page in an art book, might help.


Katy Jalili

SoN Guest Blogger


Image and quote reference : http://www.ownzee.com/post/1796/frida-kahlo-paints-herself-best