Cultural studies final essay
Cultural theorist Stuart hall states that representations are interpretations rather than reflections of “reality” or the “world” and that they are ideological in that they are constructed within a framework of values and beliefs. He also claimed that rather being “refection’s” of reality all representation are interpretations, therefore these representations that we’re given unable us to capture reality for as it is instead of interpret it and invent things about it. Often representation is see to be solely a “presence” or “appearance” of what we see however there are many different ways in which representation can be defined. Representations can be many things such as performances, clear images, material reproduction and simulations. They come in many forms such as films, television, paintings, photographs and advertisement, however it there isn’t really a ‘true’ representation of one of these things, they’re all constructed by one’s interpretation. (Baldonado, Fall 1996). Nevertheless, representations are made between ourselves and spread around, they bring things into or are invented and in order to work, they are continued by society.
Cultural hegemony refers to domination or rule achieved through ideological and cultural means and was created by Antonio Gramsci who was a Marxist philosopher. He claimed that that a culturally-diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes and that it is the domination of one social group over another, for example the ruling class over all other classes and accomplished through ideological and cultural means. The theory claims that the ideas of the ruling class come to be seen as the standard; they are seen as universal ideologies, seen to benefit everyone however only really benefiting the ruling class. The term refers to the ability of a group of people to hold power over social institutions, and therefore, to strongly impact the values, rules, ideas, expectations, worldview, and behaviour of the rest of society. However, hegemony doesn’t just refer to the domination and ruling of classes but also race, gender, sexuality, region and beliefs. (Cole. 2017)
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo struck a lot of questions when it came to representation and hegemony of gender in one of her most famous paintings ‘self portrait with cropped hair’. Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico to Guillermo Kahlo, a German Jew of Hungarian descent and Matilde Calderón who was a Part-Indian devout catholic and meticulous conservative. The self-portrait was painted in 1940 and is said to be a declaration of Kahlo’s intent to expand gender boundaries while being a statement of an assertive femininity while others say it is an expression of Kahlo’s and self-reliance and independence. Her work consisted of many self-portraits and portraits that were also inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico. Her paintings are said to tackle infertility, gender equality, cultural identity, heartbreak and sickness.
The painting is said to be Kahlo’s first self-portrait after her divorce from artist Diego Rivera, who was a very influential Mexican muralist. In the painting Frida Kahlo represents herself wearing an oversized men’s suit and crimson shirt instead of one of the traditional Mexican dresses. The painting also shows she has cut off her long hair with it scattered across the floor and in her left hand she holds a lock of her clipped hair and her other hand she holds the scissors with which martyred her femininity. Apparently Rivera admired Kahlo’s long hair and the suit she is painted wearing could be his. In a way Kahlo is on the state of rebellion and despair against her husband whom only loved her for her sensuality.
In painting Kahlo represents herself in a way that is ‘androgynous’ and a representation of how the ‘superior and dominant gender’ is assumed to dress and look like. Unlike this painting, her self-portraits are recognised by her “pre-Colombian jewellery, thereby demonstrating her credentials as a member of Mexico’s indigenous community and her femininity in eccentric fashion” (Stremmel and Grosenick 60). Above the painting lyrics of a famous Mexican song is painted across which reads “See, if I loved you, it was for your hair, now that you are without hair, I don’t love you anymore”. Considering the lyrics of the song, Kahlo felt as though she was only loved by her female traits and not for who she was. (Rhiel and Suchoff 113). After this realization she choose to leave her feminine image as well as her traditional dresses that her ex husband Diego Rivera loved so much. This was in order to express her desire to be independent and to have the freedom and privileges that the superior male gender has.
What Frida Kahlo wants to express in her painting is that she is so much more than how Rivera sees her, such as a space after he retreats from his power in public life and that her despair makes her stronger than ever. In the 20th century many women were in the imprisonment of vulnerability and femininity which most men during that time enjoyed and Kahlo shows that she is no longer living for the pleasures and desires of the male gender.