Surrealism is popular nowadays, and so it was a century ago. Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter famous for her self-portraits, and Ramses Younan, an Egyptian painter, and writer remain popular even after more than 50 years after their death. The masterpieces of those painters have admirers all over the world and even have their Instagram profiles. That popularity brings scientists to the point that problems, energetic and spiritual affections coming from the paintings, sense, and motives remain urgent in the 21st century. Although the painters lived on different continents, spoke diverse languages, and were not acquainted with each other, their paintings have traits that unite them.
Historical Importance of the Artists
Kahlo’s and Younan’s paintings made an impact on the lives of many people in their countries and around the globe. Frida Kahlo’s artworks are mostly based on self-reflection, her inner world, subconscious ideas and confrontations, and real life. Although she was often called a Surrealist, Kahlo refuted that contention substantiating it with the idea of her real life in the paintings (You, 2020). Kahlo’s art is popular and meaningful because there is a hidden sense of emotion behind every picture, and it attracts people with its sincerity and the necessity to examine the masterpiece to understand it. Mysteries usually attract people because when solved they bring relief and understanding, this is how important Kahlo’s art is.
Ramses Younan is one of the most known Egyptian not only for his paintings but also for his social activities. He is a co-founder of the Art and Liberty Group which was established as opposed to the growing right-wing radicalism in Europe at the time of World War II (Sotheby’s, 2018). As a fighter for justice Younan filled his pictures with social ideas he thought were important. Just like today’s protests or movements his masterpieces cry for help and change, that is how they find support among loads of people. The paintings are also popular because Ramses Younan is held as the father of Egyptian surrealism who brought a gulp of fresh air into art. All these factors make Ramses Younan one of the most prominent figures in Egypt’s culture.
Comparison of the Works
The works “Two Fridas” by Frida Kahlo and “Untitled” by Ramses Younan have analogous and differing traits that unite the pictures in some ideas or separate them. There are different criteria to estimate the paintings such as color spectrum, tones, number of objects, mood, the main idea, and moral or social issues represented in the picture. Both artists intend to point out problems that are significant for them and society.
Frida Kahlo is known worldwide for her surrealistic paintings but in the first place for puzzling self-portraits. The masterpiece “Two Fridas” represents two women twins sitting on a green couch and holding hands. Those women are “Two Fridas” as this is a self-portrait by the painter. According to Mao (2019), “Two Fridas” was created shortly after Frida Kahlo and her husband Rivera divorced. The woman was learning how to be independent, self-confident, and free, but it was hard to get over her ex-husband. The Frida on the right side of the painting is wearing a traditional Mexican dress accompanied by a backcombing of her black hair. Her skin tone seems to be one tone darker than the Frida on the left side possesses. In her left hand, Frida is holding a portrait of her ex-husband between the thumb and the forefinger (Mao, 2019).
The Frida on the left side of the picture is wearing a long white dress with ornaments and lace, a typical Victorian dress. This painting depicts two different states of Frida Kahlo: before and after the divorce.
One of the most important parts of the painting is the blood system between the two Fridays. The heart of the left Frida is cut in half, damaged with black cuts and scars, that is why it needs support from the right Frida’s heart. The woman on the right side has a heart that is filled with blood and is intact enough to support the heart of the second Frida. That is why both women are connected with a blood vessel that is hiding behind their backs. The European Frida holds a hemostatic forceps in her right hand and tries to clamp her damaged blood vessel with it (Mao, 2019). The meaning of the blood system in the painting can be explained as Frida’s recovering from a painful experience by herself. This painting is a strong motivation for all men to stop their bleeding without assistance, recover from pain, and be strong.
The “Untitled” painting by Ramses Younan may seem incomprehensible at firstly but it should be as it is in a surrealistic style. The picture represents a small, empty, brown room with a little window on the wall. Three scrawny women, probably the same women, in long green dresses, with dark hair, and without hands attract attention at the first sight. They are in different positions – seating, lying on the floor, and standing – which makes scientists think that they represent different agonizing stages. None of the women is looking at the viewer which is a sign of psychological pain and absence of hope (Kanafani, 2016). In the masterpiece “Untitled” by Ramses Younan dark, dirty colors such as dark green, brown, and black are prevailing proving the scientists’ idea of depression.
The two examined paintings are true treasures in the art world, both highly estimated and known worldwide. “Two Fridas” by Frida Kahlo attracts viewers with its color spectrum as the painting is full of bright colors. “Untitled” by Ramses Younan, on the other hand, includes a range of depressing colors which attract attention to the shapes of the figures. In the first painting, viewers concentrate their attention on little details such as dresses, the blood system, and minor objects in Fridas’ hands, not on her face. In the second painting, viewers’ eyes start examining not the details but the shapes and faces of the creatures. In both masterpieces, the main character is presented in different forms depicting the change in their emotional and psychological state. The two works are united with the main idea of pain, depression, and hope that inspire people in the same way. Although the different explanations of named issues may mislead the viewer, the paintings concentrate on the same problems.
The Subject of Each ArtWork
The painting “Untitled” by Ramses Younan hides the painter’s feelings about the social situation in Egypt and the World. The time the artwork was created is a period of hopelessness and disillusionment. The painting was brought to life in the period between the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 and the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 during World War II. The woman in the picture is shown in different positions representing stages of agony comparable to the sufferings of the Egyptian nation. According to Kanafani (2016), the mourning and the social despair prevailing during that period are depicted through her psychological torment. The artwork is focused on social problems present in Egypt’s society at that time, while the main idea is to provide a change in people’s minds and intentions toward each other.
Frida Kahlo’s masterpiece “Two Fridas” broaches social issues of her time that are still unsolved. The painting was created during World War II after Frida Kahlo returned to Mexico after her trip to the USA and got divorced. One of the reasons that the left Frida wears a Victorian dress is because Kahlo reflected all the multicultural influences on her life in the artwork. Weider (2019) claims that through the painting Kahlo presented “an acute level of consciousness, one elucidating the question of belonging that transnational people often confront” (Bjorlo, 2021). She raised the issue of belonging and nationality during World War II, which was a risky move as the artist focuses on the idea of cosmopolitism. Frida Kahlo and Ramses Younan aimed to influence people’s minds and change interpersonal and international relations through their paintings.
From the first look at the artworks, viewers can understand they are created in a surrealistic style. According to Wieder (2021), being an anti-Stalin communist, Khalo adhered to the working class revolution, though closely Surrealist, proclivities in Mexico and the United States. Ramses Younan is also a Surrealist as the organization Art and Liberty he established aimed to provide a cultural revolution and the trigger for social change. Surrealism helped Egyptian artists of that time express the sufferings and misery of their nation (Kanafani, 2016). The main traits of this genre are the interpretation of dreams, the combination of incompatible images, and automatism which can be recognized in the masterpieces. Both artists are mind changers who express their thoughts through surrealistic figures that match their imagination and help people realize reality.
Cultural and Political Context
Frida Kahlo and Ramses Younan were facing a lot of difficulties during their lifetime. As mentioned before, the artwork “Untitled” by Younan was written between two Egyptian revolutions at a time of despair and hopelessness. Kahlo painted her picture during World War II and after the divorce. Knowing time frames is important to understand the true motives of the authors and the sense of the painting. In Kahlo’s painting, the political context is not important because it is the reflection of the inner world, not the outer issues. Although there might be a racial context in the picture, it is also about her vision, not politics.
On the contrary, Ramses Younan’s work aims to influence the political sphere in Egypt and provide change; it is a cry for help that the nation depicted through Younan. There are cultural aspects presented in the artworks as well. Traditional Mexican dress, appearance, and the Victorian dress that depicts British culture help viewers feel the pictures’ atmosphere. Those aspects are a significant part of every artwork as a tool for transferring feelings, emotions, and problems.
Frida Kahlo and Ramses Younan paid great attention to the social issues of their time. In my opinion, they reflected the most relevant of them, like the absence of hope, power of emotions, and poverty. Scholars assume that the painters’ experience could influence the style, vision, and ideas they put into their works (Bjorlo, 2021). Kahlo and Younan are some of the most known and significant artists in the surrealistic style, and I agree with this statement. “Two Fridas” and “Untitled” definitely made an impact on many people around the world, especially in Mexico and Egypt.
Kanafani, F. M. (2016). The island of hope: How the art and liberty group sought to save Egypt from itself. Rawi Magazine. Web.
Mao, L. (2019). Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Arts, Design and Contemporary Education (ICADCE 2021). Atlantis Press.
The birth of art and liberty, Egypt’s surrealist art movement. (2018). Sotheby’s. Web.
Weider, E. (2019). Surrealism and Feminism from France to Mexico, 1914-1972. [Unpublished History Honors Thesis]. Elizabethtown College. Web.
You, L. (2020). Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium on Social Science (ISSS 2019). Atlantis Press.
Bjorlo, B. W. (2021). Frida Kahlo Picturebook Biographies: Facts and Fiction in Words and Images. Verbal and visual strategies in nonfiction picturebooks: Theoretical and analytical approaches. Web.