Self-Portrait With Monkey [Frida Kahlo]

Emily Browne

Contributor

This painting stands as proof that Michael Jackson was a copycat.

He was not the first artistic genius to have more interest in animals than most people.  Frida Kahlo was the OG animal lover as she owned monkeys, dogs, a fawn and a bird named Gertrudis Caca Blanca (aka Gertrude White Shit) – all of which resided in her home, Casa Azul.

Now, usually monkeys stand as a symbol of lust in Mexican mythology, but this little guy is just too sweet and innocent to be anything but a companion to Frida. Look at the way he wraps his little arm around her with those big puppydog eyes. Plus, we know for sure that he wasn’t a sex symbol because he was one of Kahlo’s actual monkeys, named Fulang Chang. He was the side kick in many of Frida Kahlo’s self portraits, even more so than her own husband, Diego Rivera, who gave her the monkey in the first place – probably as a “sorry I banged your sister” present.

This specific monkey painting was a commission from A. Conger Goodyear, the president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Legend has it that Goodyear saw the painting Fulang-Chang and I at Kahlo’s first solo exhibition at Levy Gallery in 1938 and, like a kid in a candy store, went crazy over it and had to have it. However, that painting had already been gifted to another Frida fan, so Kahlo had to make another one for the very insistent Goodyear.

In this painting, all signs point to Frida being a tree-hugging Earth child – the monkey wrapped around her, the bone necklace and all the greenery. We know that Kahlo had a very Mufasa-esque view of the circle of life, as did her ancestors. This was a major theme in her work, along with pain and suffering, because what else could she think about besides excruciating pain and the cyclical nature of life after nearly dying in a bus accident that crushed her body, 35 surgeries, multiple miscarriages and maybe the most tumultuous marriage in the history of relationships. The last words she ever wrote were, “I hope the exit is joyful—and I hope never to return.” Fair enough, Frida.