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Who is Frida Kahlo?

Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist, transcended pain and adversity through her vibrant self-portraits, which are rich with symbolism and passion. Her work bravely confronts identity, post-colonialism, and feminism, making her an enduring icon of strength and creativity. How did her tumultuous life fuel her artistic journey? Join us as we explore the colors of Kahlo's extraordinary legacy.
Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal

The artist Frida Kahlo was born on 6 July 1907. Her home in Mexico City was a house known as the Blue House. At the age of six, Kahlo was struck down with polio. This caused her right leg to appear much thinner than her left for the rest of her life. Later, she would be struck with a much more serious disability.

The young Frida Kahlo was described as a tomboy. At high school, she became the ringleader of a gang comprised mainly of boys, who continuously caused trouble. It was also at the National Preparatory High School that she met her future husband. Diego Rivera was a famous Mexican muralist who was painting the school’s auditorium when they met.

Frida Kahlo lived in what was called the Blue House in Mexico City.
Frida Kahlo lived in what was called the Blue House in Mexico City.

At the age of 18, Frida Kahlo was riding a bus when she had a near fatal accident. The bus crash left her with a broken collarbone, spinal column, ribs and pelvis. Kahlo was forced to stay flat in bed for a month, encased in plaster and enclosed in a box like structure.

Kahlo made a remarkable recovery and began painting due to the boredom of lying in bed. Although she had made a miraculous recovery, she was plagued with pain for the rest of her life. In her lifetime, Frida Kahlo had around thirty operations and would often rely on alcohol and drugs to ease her pain.

Frida Kahlo married Diego Rivera in 1929. It was the start of a turbulent relationship. Rivera was much older than Kahlo and had many affairs. They divorced in 1940, but the divorce lasted only one year. Although it seemed to be a love-hate relationship, Rivera helped Kahlo with her painting and she was the love of his life.

Frida Kahlo’s paintings are full of passion. She threw all of her emotional turmoil onto the canvas. Her anger over her marriage, her many miscarriages and the pain she felt from her accident were all themes for her art. She soon gained recognition for her work the world over.

Diego Rivera was not the only one to have affairs. Throughout her life, Kahlo would have affairs with many men, including the Communist leader Leon Trotsky. When Trotsky was murdered, the police held both Rivera and Kahlo under suspicion. Both were released, but for years Kahlo delighted in telling stories of how she invited Trotsky to Mexico to be murdered.

Frida Kahlo held her one and only Mexican exhibition in 1953. Her health at the time was not good and she had to be carried into the exhibition on a stretcher. Photographers, reporters and crowds of admirers mobbed her. Kahlo spent the night entertaining the crowd and the exhibition was a huge success. A year later, Kahlo had to have her right leg amputated due to a gangrene infection.

Due to the amputation, Frida Kahlo attempted suicide more than once. She died in 1954 in the Blue House where she was born. Suicide was rumored, but no official autopsy was performed. Frida Kahlo is now recognized as one of the world’s most talented artists and her work is hung in galleries all over the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Frida Kahlo and why is she significant?

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter known for her many portraits, self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico. Born on July 6, 1907, her life was marked by physical suffering, first from polio and then from a severe bus accident at the age of 18, which led to numerous medical procedures. Kahlo's significance lies in her deep personal and often painful reflection of her identity, post-colonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society, which has made her an icon of feminism and LGBTQ+ movements. Her work has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and indigenous traditions and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.

What are some of Frida Kahlo's most famous works?

Frida Kahlo's most famous works include "The Two Fridas" (1939), which depicts two versions of herself sitting side by side, and "Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" (1940), which reflects her pain and suffering through symbolic imagery. Other notable paintings are "Diego and I" (1949), showcasing her tumultuous relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera, and "Henry Ford Hospital" (1932), a raw portrayal of her miscarriage. These works are celebrated for their vivid color, emotion, and incorporation of Mexican folk culture.

How did Frida Kahlo's personal life influence her art?

Frida Kahlo's personal life had a profound impact on her art. Her physical pain and complex relationship with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, are recurring themes in her work. The bus accident she suffered as a teenager caused lifelong health problems that she frequently explored through her paintings, often depicting her own body in a state of injury or suffering. Her tumultuous marriage, her miscarriages, and her inability to have children are also central themes, making her art a direct reflection of her personal experiences and emotions.

What impact did Frida Kahlo have on feminism and cultural representation?

Frida Kahlo became an icon of feminism for her unapologetic self-expression and exploration of female form and identity. Her art challenged the traditional boundaries of femininity and beauty, often confronting pain, sexuality, and the female experience with stark realism. She also impacted cultural representation by incorporating indigenous Mexican culture into her art, thus asserting her identity in a post-colonial narrative. Kahlo's legacy continues to inspire women and artists to embrace their uniqueness and cultural heritage.

Where can one view Frida Kahlo's artwork?

Frida Kahlo's artwork can be viewed in various museums around the world. The largest collection of her work is housed at the Museo Frida Kahlo, also known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), her former home in Coyoac√°n, Mexico City. Other significant collections of her work can be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City. Additionally, her works are often part of international exhibitions, allowing a broader audience to experience her art firsthand.

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    • Frida Kahlo lived in what was called the Blue House in Mexico City.
      By: Iryna Volina
      Frida Kahlo lived in what was called the Blue House in Mexico City.