Frida Kahlo’s paintings are the most literal, traditional notion of self portraits. Many of her works are only of her, since she said she knew herself best, as far as subject matter goes. Her paintings usual show herself as a bust, from chest up, though some show her whole figure. Some of her works seem surreal, with impossible elements in unusual settings. Kahlo claimed to be a realist, that what she painted was real to her. The scenes in her work seem to be set on a stage-like setting, with a very shallow and steep foreground. I think this gives a strange quality to her work.
Marina Abramovic’s works are largely performance pieces involving herself. As these works are documented via photography, many appear as self portraits. A reoccurring theme in her work is of the test of the human spirit. Abramovic seeks to push herself to the limits in order to see what a human—not just herself—is capable of withstanding. Many of her performances seem utterly dangerous. Her work Rhythm 10, she had 20 knives, with which she jabbed in between her fingers. When she would cut herself, she would take another knife. This was recorded, and as she replayed it, she tried to recreate what she had done. This work, she said, considers the state of consciousness of the performer, and how she can push herself to do things she would not be able to do had she not been performing. Abramovic’s works seek to analyze the performer and the performer’s relationship to the audience. Although she speaks somewhat distantly about “the performer” she is the performer, and her body is the medium, so her works cannot help but be self-portraits.
initially Cui Xiuwen’s works cannot literally be called self-portraits. Many of her works feature a young, perhaps 13 year old, Chinese girl. This young figure is meant to represent the experiences of females in modern day China. The young girl, shown in a school-girl’s uniform, is often posed in risqué, suggestive, almost revealing positions. Sometimes this young girl is repeated and repeated until her figure consumes the entire picture plane. In another series, Angel, she shows a young girl, again, but pregnant. These pristine works have peaceful landscape backgrounds, with the tranquil, glowing, mother to be. As she was once a girl growing up in China, these works are metaphorically self-portraits.