Faiza Mardzoeki

About Frida Kahlo and David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life

Spirit of Pain and Painting

Frida Kahlo is an important woman Mexican artist who is still very popular until today. Kahlo had painted based on her experiences; her ideas came from her deep heart and flowed from her passion and her pain. The canvas had been Frida’s friend. How was her pain and her whole life transformed on canvases very impressively, realistically and vividly
Leon Trotsky, one of her heroes, the Russian communist party activist said “ Frida, you paint with your heart. Its very expressive and I love it…” (one of scene in a Film “Fida” directed by Julie Taymor, Frida acted by Salma Hayek, 2003, Video)

Today, the Museum of Frida Kahlo in Coyoacan, Mexico City is still visiting by people from around the world. The Museum of Kahlo called The Blue House.

Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico city, on July, 1907, at 8.30 morning, in the midts of the summer rainy season. But she told others that she was born in 1910. This year was the outbreak of the Mexican revolution. “Since She was a child of the revolutionary decade, when the streets of Mexico city were full of chaos and bloodshed, she decide that she and modern Mexico had been born together” ( Herrera,Heyden, 1989, “ Frida—-The Biography of Frida Kahlo”—-Bloomsbury publishing, p-4)

Guillermo Kahlo, her Father is Hungarian Jews, from Arad, now part of Rumania. He migrated to Germany settled in Baden-Baden and then migrated to Mexico in 1891. In 1894 he married a Mexican woman, Matilde Calderon. Matilde gave four children, and Frida was number third. Gillermo Kahlo was work as photographer and was very close to Frida. He was very support to Frida in her talent of painting. A while, Frida’s mother, Matilde was a very conservative catholic and asked to the children to be religious person.

Since Frida’s childhood, she got sick. At age 6, Frida was stricken with polio, with caused her right leg to appear much thinner than the other. And then, when she was 18, she had got an accident. This is the day after Mexico had celebrated the anniversary of independence from Spain. The day when Frida and Alex (Alejandro Gomias Arias-Frida’s boy fried), went home back together from school. The bus that they were travelling in had an accident. “Three peoples died, and Frida had seriously injured. Her spinal Column was broken in three places, her collarbone was broken, and her third and forth ribs. Her right leg had eleven fractures and her rights foot was dislocated and crushed. Her left shoulder was out joint, her pelvis broken in three places. The steel handrail literally skewered her body at the level of the abdomen; entering on the left side, it had come out through the vagina. “I lost my virginity” She said ( Herrera, Heyden, 1989, “FRIDA—The Biography of Frida Kahlo——Bloombusry, p 49)

Frida spent in hospital almost two monts. During that time she was paint wahatever she was feeling and watever she was seing. From that on, She was more produced paints. In other side, she was constant struggle between life and death. “The Dream or the Bed”, 1940 present herself lying in bed. It was describe what Frida was feeling during in bed becouse of her injury. Or Her self –potrait “The Boken Column”, 1944, is harrowing image of Kahlo in steel corset with the fractured column symbolising her injured spine.

On August 21, 1929, Frida Kahlo married to Diego Rivera. Rivera is mexican muralist. He was a member of Communist Party in Mexico. A year before wedding, Frida Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party too, in 1928. Frida Kahlo and Rivera were hand in hand together support their party and joined in rally on the street. Kahlo’s family didn’t like to Rivera. Except her father Guillermo. Her mother, Matilde didn’t come to their wedding. Her mother and her sister said that it was like marriage between an elephant and dove. Her father comes to support Frida and basically, he adores Diego Rivera as muralist. It was clear, because Guillermo was a photographer and supported what Frida had done, drawing, wedding and loving.

It was a unique and contradictive relationship between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. From the beginning, Frida loved Diego obsessively. She adored Diego very much. Diego admired strong and independent women. It was there in Frida. But, their relationship was up and down. Diego had affairs with others women. Include Frida’s young sister. In other hand, Frida also had affairs with men and women. Both were jealous each other and got pain from this situation. The contradictive side could see in what Frida said “ Being the wife of Diego is the most marvelous thing in the world……I let him play never will be, but he is a great comrade “ ( Herrera, Heyden, 1989, “Frida—Biography of Frida Khalo—“, Bloomsbury, p 365). At other time Frida said : “ I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a street car knocked me down, the other accident is Diego…” (www.riveramural.com, htp//members.ad.com,/frida net/kahlo.htm).

Frida was expressed what her feeling to painting such as “Diego and I”, 1944, Frida’s despair over Rivera’s philandering is almost hysterical. His portraits lodged in her forehead, but he him self is elsewhere, and Frida seems to be strangling in the swirl her own hair.

With Diego, Frida got pregnant three times. But they were lost. One of her case is because of her fetus. Her fetus was in the wrong position and he had abortion. On July 1932 She had in hospital for thirteen days. She was very sad. Frida gave her affection to Lupe’s children. Lupe is the first wife of Diego. Beside that, She gave warm attention on her numerous pets-dogs, monkeys, cats, parrots, doves, an eagle and a deer. Many of her painting express this fascination with procreation and some directly reflected her despair at not having children. The painting “ Henry Ford Hospital”, 1932 was presented what had happen in her pregnant. Or “Me and My Doll”, painted in 1937. Both of these paintings speak vividly that she was very sad because not having children.

Frida was struggling between life and death. But she had a lot of passion to do something. She had lot of contradictions in her character. She was very flamboyant but she was fragile. She loved very much Diego while at the same time she had pain. “ Her physical suffering were compounded by profound emotional pain” ( Ulrike Lehman, “I never painted dream”, 2003, Taschen, p 107)

The year she died, she told a friend, “ my painting carries within the message of pain. Painting completed by life. I lost three children…paintings substituted for all this I believe that work is the best thing” (Herrera, Heyden, 1989 “Frida—“the biography of Frida Kahlo—-Bloomsbury) . She died in 1954 in Coyoacan Mexico city.


1. A film Frida , 2003, directed by Julie Taymor. Video

2. Herrera, Heyden, Frida—The Biography of Frida Khalo—, 1989, Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

3. www.riveramural.com, htp//members.ad.com,/frida net/kahlo.htm).

4. Ulrike Lehman, “I never painted dream”, 2003, Taschen, p 107, from a book Women Artists in the 20th and 21th century.

David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life
The significance of the figure of “the Child” in David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life

Faiza Mardzoeki

In David Malouf’s novel An Imaginary Life, one of the most significant aspects of characterisation revolves around the Child. Malouf explores the issues of the interrelationship between an old man, Ovid and the Child, and the changes it brings in human personality. The Child in An Imaginary Life is not a child as a child, but here, the Child is a wild boy, as a symbol of barbaric or uncivilized society and reflects the process of reflection and of the deepening of humanity’s evolution into a new self. Ovid represents civilized man who has to face changed life situation, in “new place”, as an exile. In this process, the inner balance of Ovid self-ness has been tested through many experiences. Furthermore, the figure playing main role in Ovid’s process is The Child. Thus, the chronology of the meeting between Ovid and the child in Tomis is really about the process of shaping self-ness. Both of them interact with each other resulting in the process of transformation. This essay will examine the significant role of the Child in the whole process of reflection, evolution and humanisation of Ovid (and the Child).

The construction of reflection
The main character, Ovid, is a vivid example of how lives can be changed through the processes of life’s experiences. Ovid is a key character and narrator who presents Malouf’s argument about the society and life. The old man, Ovid, as a poet in Rome was clever, arrogant and of course, civilized man. But he is changed when he lives in exile. He is no one. Ovid said in soliloquy: “Have you heard my name? Ovid? Am I still known?” (Malouf, 1994, p.19). As a popular poet in Rome, Ovid is partly responsible for a moral decline in the national style. However, in Tomis as an exile, there are no more glorifications, even he does not speak the language in “the new place”. He is suffering displacement and disorientation.

As an exile, Ovid, beside displacement and disorientation, he also has been facing a challenge to the inner balance of his attitude and his integrity. These values are the basic standard for human life wherever and whenever you exist. An Imaginary Life, bring this issue to the reader. From the point of view of the personal context of Malouf who has experience as a migrant family, Malouf consciously put his experiences and his feeling into his novel (His Christian father’s family came to Australia from Lebanon and his Jewish’s mother from London). The combination of personal history and his knowledge is the basic his strong imagination. An Imaginary Life is narrative platform for Malouf, which is reflecting LIFE through his placement of Ovid, himself and the reader into an alien existence. While, the Child is Ovid’s alter ego.

In the beginning of this book, Ovid speaks directly to the reader about his experiences in exile, in Tomis with frustration sound and alienation. “The desolateness of place“ is clearly an introduction to the weary place and unpleasant arena for a poet, Ovid. Then, he describes his felling with strong words: “But I am describing a state of mind, no place. I am in exile here”. (p.16).

What Ovid says about his feelings is fully understandable. He suffers emotionally and intellectually from the displacement and disorientation.

It is an interesting and important point that Malouf chose a process of life change, where a poet in Rome is grabbed into desolateness, as an exile in Tomis where he meets a wild boy, the Child.

Since the beginning, Malouf gives clues about questions of self. It’s about existence. Furthermore Malaouf illustrates what Ovid’s thinking in the new place about the Child:
“The child is here. I am three or four years old.
It is late summer. It is spring. I am six. I am eight. The child is always the same age” (p.9).
The numbers four three, four, six or eight are meaningless in themselves, but reflect that Ovid starts to rethink on his life, through the Child. However, there is a question about the child that is he real or just Ovid’s imagination? Here, the memory and imagination are working together and shaping the process of a new awareness and creating a different realities.
The incident when he saw the poppy means he suddenly goes to the past, and his mind works through the screen of his memory. However, the words, which are dancing in his memory, show an obvious bitter nuance and take him back to want his past. Ovid says in his mind:
“Poppy, scarlet poppy, flower of my far-off childhood and the corn fields round our farm at Sulmo, I have brought you into being again, I have raised you out of my earliest memories, out my blood, to set you blowing the wind (p.31) “. In this phase, is it a real? Is there real poppy? Following that, Ovid still dancing with his memory, “Magic world on the tongue to flash again on the eye. Scarlet. And with all the other colours come flooding back… I am making the spring” (P. 31).

The vivid scarlet is come from his mind and crash to his childhood. From a structural point of view, the chronology of the meeting between Ovid and the child in Tomis builds the process of shaping identity. Many times, Ovid moves forward and backward and is sometimes absurd. He goes around and around, raising the issue: it is real or not. I think, this novel has “hidden agenda” to ask the reader to think about life or and about complex philosophical questions such as what is reality, what is identity or what is existence?

“Wild” and “Child”: nature and innocence
The child is universally a symbol of innocence. But he is the wild child wild is a symbolizes nature. So, when Ovid goes back to his memory on childhood, it means he is reviving the connection and interaction with the natural world.

In chapter two, the villagers agree to Ovid’s plan to capture the wild boy. The Child is finally subdued after a frantic chase and struggle, and is brought into the village. Here, Ovid has moved from alienation to acceptance of his life in exile. He is not only involved in the new circumstances but he tries to embraces the surrounding nature. He does planting with the people and starts to observe everything that can be seen in Tomis. This moment is the starting point of how Ovid transforms into a “new person”. With different values, the evolution is occurred:

“My life has been so frivolous. Brought up to believe in my own nerves, in restlessness, variety, change: educated entirely out of books, living always in a state of soft security, able to pamper my self, to drift about in a cloud of tender feeling, and with comfortable notions of my own intelligence, sociability, kindness, good breeding; moved by nothing that I couldn’t give a name to, believing in nothing I couldn’t see; never for a moment challenged by ore than a clever boy can handle, who has learned early…
…. Tomorrow I am go to with the old man’s hunting party to birchwoods, where are there are deer ” (p.39-40)

Then, Ovid starts to develop deep relations with the Child. However he begins to be “obsessive” over the child:
“I have seen nothing like it before, except from the eyes of my Child, so many years ago” (P. 50)
My Child, emphasises that Ovid relates memory to his father through acting as a father to the child. The ego of Ovid as a civilized man still there when he plans to introduce the child to the ways of human living, while he still wants the “power over” the Childs reflects that Ovid is still in a process of transformation. It can be analogous to human can “power over” nature. Both, “power over” need wisdom. Ovid begins to deepen wisdom in his relationship with the “wild Child”. The moment where Ovid and the Child walk together in the swampy land by the river, they are sharing of consciousness. It is the man who learns, who transform himself to let the universe into his soul. The natural world lead Ovid to embraces the life wisely. The cycle of seasons also important here. Spring, summer, autumn and winter is reflecting of the cycling of life. Malouf emphasises the impact of nature on mankind. He shows the bounty of nature and creating the nurturing force (Barbara & Stanners, 2005, p. 44).

The condition of nature, in the literary world is often symbol of the human condition. The cycle of seasons here reflects the situation, the different emotions and of hope. Malouf’s reference is not unique, and cliché:
“ It is autumn. Tomorrow we go again to the birchwoods after deer. I dare not mention the Child” (p.57) …“another spring. I understand all that is said to me now in this crude”…. “ It begins to autumn again. There is smokiness in things. Once again we go to birchwoods” (p.58).
Here, the seasons pointed that changing situation and the process of adaptation in Tomis begins.

In the term of nature, the urban existence of Ovid is challenged. As a poet, a civilized and coming from the cultural city, Rome, it is interesting how Ovid reflects to the surrounding nature. Does Ovid escape from nature? For Malouf Ovid is a man is undergoing change. In the beginning, Ovid is frustrated; later on Ovid tries to embrace nature, not exercise power over nature. Malouf seems romanticise nature, which can contribute to the wisdom of human life. When the child got fever, falls and into a state of apathy, once again, Ovid tries to be his guardian. Now he must show wisdom.

Ovid is more and more reflecting him self. He feels very closed to the Child. Ovid finally accepts that he now belong in Tomis and will not return to Rome. His mind is wiser then before. “ What I have done?” (p.73). This words are reflecting that he start move forward of his phase of reflection. Interrelationship of Ovid and the Child is deeper.

Here are the peak of Ovid’s reflections and the process of interrelationship between Ovid and the child. The process of humanisation occurred when both of them interact with each other more sympathically and deeply:

“ I think and think. What must steps be? How should I begin? Kindness, I know, is the way -and time” (p.77) and then Ovid says: “ The room I know, is filled with emotions that are not mine only, thoughts not mine, that leap into the damp atmosphere of late morning where I sit scribbling and the boy, taut as spring…” (P.79-80)

Ovid seems to have planned to bring the Child into human society. On the other hand, Ovid more and more thinks on his life. He thinks of LIFE. Now, on this phase, Ovid’.s humanity deepens.

In the end of this book, it not really clear whether Ovid is dead or has just becomes a wiser man?
“…The Child’s moving away from me…” and then”… I am three years old. I am sixty. I am six. I am there”. (152)

Malouf style is full of symbols, concepts and philosophical words. As novel, the plot is simple, the man who before was “in spot light” then grabbed into desolate place, become nobody, and then changed to become “a different man”. It’s simple but strong words and more complex when he put the character of the Child. Is the Child is exist? Or the child is Ovid’s imagination? Ovid’s alter ego? (1952 words)


Barbara&Stanners, M, David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life & Selected Poems: Wordsworth, Five Senses Education pty, ltd, NSW, 2005

Malouf, D, An Imaginary Life, Picador, 1994