While browsing a local store full of eclectic and artisan collectibles, I came across an intriguing print of one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo. The shop assistant approached me and we had a lengthy conversation about the artist. We discussed how she was a woman ahead of her time and spoke about the movie based on her life titled Frida, played by Salma Hayek. The assistant went on to say there was an exhibition in the coming months of Frida and her artist husband Diego Rivera at the Gallery of N.S.W.
I was so excited about seeing Frida’s work. I chose my outfit carefully to match the occasion. Tan-colored fringed poncho accompanied a black leather pencil skirt. I wore bronze Aztec feather earrings with metallic brown eye shadow and black eyeliner. Sporting a gypsy-like outfit made me look like I fit in to the artsy culture.
It was lunch time when I arrived so I made my way down to the gallery cafe. As I drew closer, the noise that came from there grew increasingly louder. I tried to dull out the noise and focus my energy internally, a skill I had mastered after dining alone many times, but the more I tried the worse it got. After I ordered my meal I surveyed the busy cafe for a vacant table.
All I could hear was endless chatter, people engrossed in a myriad of conversations, cutlery scraping on plates and the clash of crockery on crockery. Normally when I was on my own I preferred a quiet spot to sit in a cafe, but this particular day available tables were scarce. After searching for a few minutes I finally found somewhere to eat.
As I sat down with my overpriced pumpkin soup and sourdough bread, a confused bundle of feelings surged over me. The pang of loneliness had crept into my heart. I felt disconnected with everyone else like something was missing. There was emptiness in the space of my chest. The hunger in my soul was stronger than the hunger in my stomach.
I imagined people whispering to one another and looking at me with pity saying ‘Poor girl has no friends.’ I was anxious about being alone and how other people viewed me being alone. Desperate for relief I tried to engage with a woman near me who appeared to be on her own, only to find her friend return to the table a few minutes later.
Usually I took pride in being a free-spirit but in that moment I felt alone in the crowd, an outsider. I felt lonelier around people then I could by myself because their presence reminded me of how isolated I was. It wasn’t a physical loneliness but a loneliness of the heart and mind.
I scanned the room once more and saw a woman contently sipping on her coffee, and another man sitting opposite me with his tray of food. Still we remained a minority.
To escape this misery I quickly devoured my meal and headed towards the exhibition. As I entered the quiet room with vibrant colored paintings that hung on the white walls a strange calm came over me and my pain seemed to disappear.
I thought about how art acts as a tool of connection with one another and helps us peacefully navigate our differences, support our self-worth, and enables us to process the deepest misfortunes. Art had become the catalyst for healing my wounded heart.
Frida also embraced this part of herself saying that she painted self-portraits because she ‘was so often alone.’ Self-discovery was a reoccurring theme throughout her work, and revealed feelings of vulnerability that most of us would be embarrassed to share.
Yet, within the piercing gaze that marks her portraits and gracefully brutal depictions of loss, love and loneliness, strength emerges and sets Frida apart from all painters. She was described by her husband as, ‘the only example in the history of art as an artist who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings.’
Loneliness can feel like a hollow emptiness of isolation and disconnection. Yet it isn’t a rare or curious experience that only some people experience but rather is familiar to the human condition. Once I embraced loneliness as a part of life, I could engage in a renewed awareness of myself, connecting with the vulnerable part of me.
About the Author
JULIE GIURGIS is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. Her work has been published in several publications including Transition, Vibrant Life, Kaleidoscope, The Edge and Vita Bella.