An artist and a feminist icon, Frida Kahlo was honoured by an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Musuem in London in 2018. After enjoying that experience myself, finding my new university bag, she became a new inspiration.
Born: 6th July 1907
Died: 13th July 1954
Nationality: Father – German, Mother – half Amerindian and half Spanish
Family: Three sisters
Her first struggle
I can only admire Kahlo for her enormous strength from a very young age. She survived polio after being bedridden for nine months at six years old. Due to this illness, her right leg grew thinner and she had a limp for the rest of her life. Her father encouraged her to do sports to help her recover which was unusual for a girl at the time – football, swimming and wrestling.
Her second struggle and the beginning of her career
Kahlo was clearly intelligent. She was one of thirty-five female students at her school (the National Preparatory School in Mexico City), but this didn’t put her off being outspoken and colourful in her dress and personality. This is also where she met her future husband, Diego Rivera. She experienced more physical pain in a bus accident during which she was travelling with her love interest at the time Alejandro Gomez Arias. A steel handrail fractured her spin and pelvis. During this recovery she started painting.
Her love life
Kahlo had a different relationship for all of her life. She married Rivera in 1929 after reconnecting with him over her artwork. She often had to move around for his career. Unfortunately, Rivera had many affairs including with Kahlo’s own sister. She cut off her long hair in desperation. While they split up multiple times, they always got back together. The couple divorced in 1939 only to remarry in 1940 but they still had separate lives and houses.
Kahlo was a communist from a young age, joining the Young Communist League and the Mexican Communist Party. Kahlo and her husband housed Leon and Natalia Trotsky when they were exiled from Russia and she had a brief affair with Trotsky.
She used her art to express her life struggles: her health problems, her love life and her physical illnesses. After befriending one of the key figures of the Surrealist Movement, Andre Breton, her art was recognised to be surrealist.
Due to the bus accident she couldn’t have children and was heartbroken by her second miscarriage in 1934.
In 1938, Kahlo had an exhibition at the New York City gallery.
Frida was commissioned to depict a friend who had taken their own life. It was so horrifying to the patron, they almost destroyed it.
Pushing her career further, Kahlo was commissioned by the Mexican government to create five portraits of important Mexican woman in 1941. However, she couldn’t finish the project due to the loss of her father and chronic health problems.
This painting represents Kahlo’s health issues. The self-portrait shows her wearing a surgical brace. The nails through her body show the constant pain she was in.
The end of her life
In 1950, Kahlo faced more health issues, being diagnosed with gangrene. She was hospitalised and had many surgeries. However, three years later, her work was celebrated in a solo exhibition in Mexico where she showed up in an ambulance and celebrated in a bed that was set up for her.
Part of her leg was amputated, and her worsening health brought on depression and suicidal thoughts. Her last public appearance was on 2nd July 1954 at demonstration against US backed overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala.
At 47 she passed away at the Blue House
In 1958, the Blue House which she lived in for so long and loved so much was turned into a museum.
There was renewed interest in her work in the 1970s due to feminism. She was recognised as an icon of female creativity.