Frida Kahlo’s 1938 painting “Girl with Death Mask (She Plays Alone)” resides in Nagoya City Art Museum in Japan. In it, the girl is wearing a mask one might see during the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is on November 2nd, where those living commemorate the memory of the dead by celebrating them.
The mask the girl wears is reminiscent of La Calavera Catrina (“The Elegant Skull”) that is commonly associated with the Day of the Dead. While the Catrina is a zinc etching from 1913 by Jose Guadalupe Posada, the image of the feminine skull has become a touchstone for the seemly morbid celebrations.
The yellow follow is called a tagete that is placed on the graves during the Day of the Dead. We’ve established a theme here, yes? Day of the Dead, celebration, stuff like that?
This little girl appears to be very young; in some analysis of the painting, it is speculated in is a self-portrait of Kahlo as a child. She wears the mask of the dead and stands alone next to a mask (Google yields that it is a mask of a tiger) with a horrifying face. She is alone under a moody gray sky with nothing but a flower for the dead.
This is a painting I look at every day; it’s been cut out of a book (I know, sacrilege) and is pasted next to my computer. There is an obvious sadness about this painting because we see a little girl who is not playing with others, being a child, but instead pondering death. But there is something else in this painting: a freedom. She is aware of life in that it leads to death and there is an element of resignation in her pose that says, “I know you’re coming, I accept you.”