Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón (July 13, 1954), known worldwide as Frida Kahlo, was a Mexican painter recognized as a pop icon of Mexican culture. Her work revolves thematically around her biography and her own suffering. She was the author of 150 works, mainly self-portraits, in which she projected her difficulties to survive.
Her life was marked by the misfortune of suffering a serious accident in her youth that kept her bedridden for long periods, and she underwent up to 32 surgeries. Frida”s work and that of her husband, painter Diego Rivera, influenced each other. Both shared a taste for Mexican folk art with indigenous roots, inspiring other Mexican painters of the post-revolutionary period.
In 1939 she exhibited her paintings in France thanks to an invitation from André Breton, who tried to convince her that they were “surrealist”, although Kahlo said that this tendency did not correspond to her art since she did not paint dreams but her own life. One of the works in this exhibition (Self-Portrait-The Frame, now at the Pompidou Center) became the first painting by a Mexican artist acquired by the Louvre Museum. Until then, Frida Kahlo had painted only privately, and she herself found it difficult to admit that her work could be of general interest. Although she enjoyed the admiration of prominent painters and intellectuals of her time such as Pablo Picasso, Vasili Kandinski, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Tina Modotti and Concha Michel, her work achieved fame and true international recognition after her death, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s by collectors such as the singer Madonna.
Early years (1910-1925)
Frida was the third daughter of photographer Guillermo Kahlo, a German immigrant who became a naturalized Mexican citizen, and Matilde Calderón, a Mexican citizen, and her two older sisters were Matilde (after them her only brother, Guillermo (born in 1906 and who survived only a few days) was born). In July 1907 Frida was born and only eleven months later, in June 1908, her younger sister, Cristina. She was her constant companion and the only one of the Kahlo sisters to leave descendants. In addition, Frida had three older sisters on her father”s side: Luisa (born in 1894), María (born in 1896 and died a few days after her birth) and Margarita, all daughters of her father”s first marriage to María Cardeña Espino (also called Cerdeña in some sources), who died during Margarita”s birth in 1898.
There are many publications that point to Frida”s father as a German of Judeo-Hungarian origin. Among them, the most widely spread is the version that Hayden Herrera gathers in his well-known biography of Frida Kahlo, in which it is affirmed that Frida”s grandparents came from Hungary, precisely from Arad, a region that today belongs to Romania and they would have settled in Germany in the city of Baden-Baden (today belonging to the federated state of Baden-Wurtemberg), where Wilhelm”s (Guillermo) father would have been born in the year 1872.
In fact, they came from Pforzheim, a small town in the state of Baden-Württemberg, and both their grandparents -Jakob Wilhelm Kahlo and Henriette Kaufmann- and the rest of their ancestors belonged to the local bourgeoisie and were of the Lutheran religion. The research was able to establish a family tree with verified ancestry back to the year 1597.
After the death of his mother (Frida”s grandmother) in 1878 and due to disagreements with his father”s new wife, Wilhelm Kahlo sailed to Hamburg and arrived in Veracruz (Mexico) in 1890. As part of the break with his family of origin, he changed his name to its Spanish equivalent: Guillermo. On August 15, 1893 he married María Cardeña, from whom he was widowed four years later. On February 21, 1898 he celebrated his ecclesiastical marriage with Matilde Calderón, Frida”s mother, a union that was only civilly legitimized on September 29, 1904. That same year, three years before Frida”s birth, the family moved to the town of Coyoacán, in the geographic center of Mexico City, to the well-known Casa Azul at 247 Londres Street, now the Frida Kahlo Museum. At Matilde”s request, Frida”s two older sisters (daughters of Guillermo Kahlo”s first marriage) were boarders at a convent school, so they only spent their vacations at the Kahlo-Calderón family home.
Frida”s life was marked from a very early age by the physical suffering and illnesses she endured. The first of these misfortunes consisted of polio, which she contracted in 1913, beginning a series of successive illnesses, various injuries, accidents and operations. This first illness forced her to remain in bed for nine months and left her with a permanent sequel: her right leg was much thinner than her left. Encouraged by her father and as part of her rehabilitation, Frida practiced various sports, some of which were unusual for a girl in Mexican society at the time, such as soccer and boxing.
However, the obvious motor limitations, as well as constant surgeries and medical treatments, caused Frida to develop differently and she was often prevented from participating with other children. Several of the pictures she later painted in her adult life reflect the theme of the loneliness of her childhood. A frequently cited example is the 1938 work Four Inhabitants of Mexico City, an oil on metal, 32.4 x 47.6 cm, showing a small girl sitting on a raised surface and wearing a tehuana. The girl seems abandoned and sad, sucking her thumb in desolation. Another painting from the same year (Niña con máscara de muerte or She Plays Alone), which Frida painted in two versions, shows a little girl of about four years of age wearing a skull mask. Although it is about the Day of the Dead, a celebration that in Mexico has a popular holiday character, the feeling of loneliness that the little girl in this painting, who is supposed to represent Frida herself, nevertheless conveys, has also been commented on.
While ambivalent feelings of love and hate characterized Frida”s bond with her mother, her relationship with her father was always one of great affection and closeness. And it became even closer after Frida”s polio illness, since it was her father who mainly accompanied her in her exercises and guided her in rehabilitation programs. Frida, in turn, witnessed her father”s continuous and mysterious fainting spells, for which no one in her early childhood offered any explanation. These were the frequent epileptic seizures her father suffered as a sequel to an early brain injury. Over time, Frida learned to assist him in these circumstances and eventually learned the cause. The shared experience of dealing with the misfortune of illness brought father and daughter together in a strong bond of solidarity and empathy.
It has not been possible to identify exactly which school Frida attended before 1922. It has been repeatedly pointed out, however, that she was a student at the German School until 1921 and that she would have obtained her school certificate there. However, the school records do not provide proof of this, nor did Frida have the expected command of the German language, as she herself wrote in a letter -written in English- in 1949 to Hans-Joachim Kahlo, in which she tried to find out about her ancestors and family in Germany.
In 1922 she entered the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, a prestigious Mexican educational institution, which had recently begun to admit female students, with only 35 women out of a total of two thousand students. There were only 35 women, out of a total of two thousand students, and she aspired to study medicine. At this school she met future Mexican intellectuals and artists, such as Salvador Novo, and was part of a group of students known as Los Cachuchas, so called because of the caps they wore. Only two women belonged to this group: Carmen Jaime and Frida herself. The others were all men who in their adult lives were intellectually or professionally successful in Mexican society: Agustín Lira, Miguel Lira, Alfonso Villa, Manuel González Ramírez, Jesús Ríos y Valles, José Gómez Robleda and the man who became her boyfriend, Alejandro Gómez Arias. The cachuchas were rebels, they defined themselves as a political group, critical of authority, they protested against injustices and mobilized for reforms in the school system. But they also had fun and played pranks at school with great enthusiasm. Their political activity and position fell somewhere between anarchist and romantic revolutionary ideas, and Frida would later depict on canvas a typical scene of her encounters with these friends. The oil painting, painted in 1927 in a cubist style, is entitled Los Cachuchas (or, alternatively, Si Adelita…) and conveys, with the help of symbols, the group atmosphere and the interests of the members of the group.
Accident and the beginning of his painting (1925-1928)
On September 17, 1925 Frida suffered a serious accident when the bus in which she was traveling was run over by a streetcar, crushed against a wall and completely destroyed. She was returning home from school with Alejandro Gómez Arias, her boyfriend at the time. His spine was fractured in three places, and he also suffered fractures in two ribs, his collarbone and three fractures in his pelvic bone. Her right leg was fractured in eleven places, and her right foot was dislocated. In this regard, Kahlo commented that this would have been the brutal way in which she had lost her virginity. The medicine of her time tormented her with multiple surgical operations (at least 32 throughout her life), plaster corsets and different types of corsets, as well as various “stretching” mechanisms.
At the beginning of 1925, shortly before this accident, she had worked as an apprentice in the engraving and printing workshop of Fernando Fernández Domínguez, a friend of her father”s who, in the midst of his work, taught her to draw by copying engravings by Anders Zorn, since he believed he had detected in her special gifts for this art. Apart from this experience, Frida had not shown any special interest in painting before her accident. Nor did she follow with any great interest the subject of fine arts at school. The battle against the after-effects of poliomyelitis made her lean more towards sporting activities: the more she moved and the more systematic physical exercise she did, the better her chances of recovery. After the accident, however, she tried to move as little as possible to aid healing. Thus painting took a central place in his life, and during his long convalescence he began to paint more steadily. In September 1926 he painted his first self-portrait in oil, which he dedicated to Alejandro Gómez Arias. In this first work he began a dynamic that would continue for the rest of his life: to reflect in his paintings the events of his life and the feelings they produced in him.
In 1927 his painting became more complex. That same year he painted the Portrait of Miguel N. Lira, an oil on canvas of 99.2 X 67.5 cm where he shows his companion cachucha in a very particular and symbolic background full of objects and signs that allude to his name. Just a year later he painted the portrait of his sister Cristina with very pure lines and very soft tones.
By this time, Frida had already begun to frequent political, artistic and intellectual circles. Through Germán de Campo, a student leader much admired by Frida, she met the Cuban communist Julio Antonio Mella, who was living in exile in Mexico with his Italian-born partner, the photographer Tina Modotti, through whom Frida came into contact with the painter Diego Rivera. Frida and Tina became fast friends and the latter began to take Frida to the political meetings of the Mexican Communist Party, an organization of which several of her cachucha friends were already members and which Frida also formally joined. Diego Rivera had been a member of the Communist Party since 1922.
First marriage to Diego Rivera (1929-1939)
Frida met Diego Rivera through Tina Modotti. Previously, in 1922, she had had the opportunity to observe him during the creation of his first mural at the Simón Bolívar Amphitheater of the National Preparatory School. In 1928 she had met Diego Rivera again at some evenings and meetings she attended with Tina Modotti, but she had never spoken directly with him. One day she visited him spontaneously, while working on a series of murals for the Secretaría de Educación Pública building, in order to show him her own work. Diego was impressed with her paintings and encouraged her to continue painting. From then on he was a constant guest at the Kahlo home.
The artist married Diego Rivera on August 21, 1929. Their relationship consisted of love, affairs with other people, creative bonding, hatred, a divorce in 1939 and a second marriage a year later.
The marriage was called the union between an elephant and a dove, as Diego was huge and obese while she was small and thin. On the other hand, Frida, due to her injuries, never had children, which took her many years to accept.
In 1930, Frida became pregnant for the first time. However, due to the abnormal position of the fetus and the after-effects of the 1925 accident, the three-month pregnancy had to be interrupted, as decided by the doctor Jesús Marín. At the time, other doctors were of the opinion that Frida would probably never be able to have children.
Despite Diego”s affairs with other women (which came to include the painter”s own sister, Cristina) and Frida”s own infidelities, the couple managed to complement each other in many ways.
Frida”s traditional Mexican costumes, consisting of long colorful dresses and exotic jewelry, became, along with her frowning countenance, her trademark image. He loved her painting and was also her greatest admirer. Frida, for her part, was Diego”s greatest critic.
Residence in the United States (1931-1934)
Mexico”s political environment for leftist sympathizers was complicated by the government of Plutarco Elías Calles. Diego Rivera”s commissions for murals initiated by Education Minister José Vasconcelos came to a standstill. As Rivera”s fame and reputation had grown in the United States, he received commissions in the neighboring country, moving his residence there between 1931 and 1934 and spending most of his time in New York and Detroit.
In 1932 Diego Rivera was commissioned to paint murals for a museum in Detroit. In April of that year Frida painted Aparador en una calle de Detroit, a work heavily influenced by Giorgio de Chirico, and she became critical of the American way of life and reflected it in her paintings at the time. In August of that same year she contemplated a solar eclipse, so she incorporated the dualism of night and day into some of her paintings, which became a frequent and recurring iconographic element in her work.
While in Detroit, Frida suffered another miscarriage. During her recovery she painted her self-portrait Abortion in Detroit, done in a more penetrating style, inspired by the small votive paintings of Mexican folk art that were called retablos. This painting was totally independent of what her husband was doing. Rivera, aware of the value of the work and of this period, said:
Frida began work on a series of masterpieces unprecedented in the history of art, paintings that exalted the feminine quality of truth, reality, cruelty and grief. Never before had a woman put such tormented poetry on canvas as Frida did at this time in Detroit.
First exhibitions (1935-1939)
They returned to Mexico in 1933. Rivera had an affair with Cristina, Frida”s younger sister. Previously there had been other infidelities on Rivera”s part, but this affair with Cristina affected Frida greatly and was a turning point in their relationship. Although they overcame their disagreements, Frida began other romantic relationships with both men and women that continued for the rest of her life. Rivera was violently jealous of his wife”s extramarital affairs, although he was more tolerant of Frida”s lesbian relationships than her heterosexual ones.
In 1938 the poet and surrealist essayist André Breton called her work surrealist in an essay he wrote for Kahlo”s exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. However, she herself later stated, “They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn”t. I never painted my dreams. I never painted my dreams. I painted my own reality.
In 1939 Frida Kahlo finished a self-portrait, where she reflected her two personalities: The Two Fridas. In this painting, she assimilated the marital crisis, through the separation between the Frida in tehuana dress, Diego”s favorite, and the other Frida, with European roots, the one who existed before her meeting with him. The hearts of the two women are connected to each other by a vein, the rejected European part of Frida Kahlo threatens to lose all her blood. That same year she exhibited in Paris at the Renon et Collea gallery thanks to Breton. This stay in the French capital brought her into contact with the Malaga painter Pablo Picasso.
Main articles: Leon Trotsky, Natalia Sedova, Diego Rivera, Juan R. de la Cruz and Octavio Nicolas Fernandez Vilchis.
Between 1937 and 1939, the Ukrainian revolutionary (but who developed his political life in Russia) Leon Trotsky lived in exile in Frida”s house in Coyoacan with his wife, where Frida would have an affair with the communist leader. There Frida would have an affair with the communist leader. After Trotsky”s assassination by Stalinist NKVD member Ramon Mercader, Frida was accused of being the perpetrator. This led to her arrest, but she was eventually released along with her husband.
With the adoption of the Trotskyist ideology by Diego Rivera and the Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Construcción de la Ciudad de México, Juan R. de la Cruz”s union that Fernández Vilchis trained and formed politically, the subject of being part of a group of the IV International began to be discussed. In the meetings, in addition to the painter, other personalities such as Félix Ibarra, the Ayala family, Luciano Galicia, Carlos and Benjamín Álvarez, Frida Kahlo, Juan R. De la Cruz and eight to ten thousand union workers participated. Faced with discord among the participants, and because the movement was being sacrificed to the personal interests of León Trotski, Diego Rivera considered it necessary to dissolve this Mexican section.
Artistic recognition (1939-1949)
On November 6, 1939 Kahlo and Rivera divorced after a series of infidelities, where the most painful issue for Frida was the relationship between Diego and her sister. Frida returned temporarily to her home in Coyoacán. It was a period of depressive mood in which the artist consumed alcohol as a way to alleviate her physical and psychological suffering. There are two important pictorial productions in this period of separation: The Two Fridas and Two Nudes in a Forest.
On May 24, 1940, Siqueiros” first failed attempt on Trotsky”s life took place, as a result of which the Blue House was raided and Frida was detained by the police for several hours.
In August of the same year Trotsky was assassinated as a result of a second attack. Frida was again interrogated by the police. Rivera traveled to San Francisco (California) in June 1940 and Frida followed him a few months later to undergo a new surgical operation in that city with surgeon Leo Eloesser, who had already treated her ten years earlier, during the couple”s first stay in San Francisco. After recovering from this operation, she traveled to New York.
After the divorce, Frida and Diego continued to share much of the social, artistic and political life that brought them together. Frida arrived in September in San Francisco and just two months later, the couple decided to remarry. The new amicable agreement was to live together, share expenses, continue their artistic collaboration and exclude their sexual life as a couple from their relationship.
During these years, the artistic recognition of his work was increasing, especially in the United States. He participated in important group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
From 1943 he taught at La Esmeralda School in Mexico City.
In 1950 she was hospitalized in Mexico City and remained in the hospital for a year.
Last years (1950-1954)
In 1953 in Mexico City, the only solo exhibition in her country during the artist”s lifetime was organized. In one of the reviews it was said: “It is impossible to separate the life and work of this person… her paintings are her biography”. The exhibition was at the Contemporary Art Gallery. Frida”s health was already very deteriorated and doctors forbade her to attend the exhibition. Nevertheless, she arrived in an ambulance, attending her exhibition in a hospital bed. Photographers and journalists were impressed. The bed was placed in the center of the gallery and Frida told jokes, sang and drank the afternoon away. The exhibition had been a resounding success.
That same year she had to have her leg amputated below the knee due to a gangrene infection. This plunged her into a great depression that led her to attempt suicide on a couple of occasions, using prescribed opiates. During this time she wrote poems in her diaries, mostly related to pain and suffering.
In February 1954 Frida wrote explicitly in her diary about her suicidal thoughts. Describing as a great torture the physical and psychological pains of the last six months after the amputation, she noted that, although she continued to think about taking her own life, the only thing holding her back was Diego Rivera, whom she did not wish to abandon because she had “the vanity” of believing that he would miss her. On April 19, 1954 she was admitted to the English hospital after a suicide attempt and, although she wrote in her diary that she had promised not to relapse, on May 6 she had to be hospitalized again for the same reason. However, her courage and bravery were with her until the end: on July 2, moving in a wheelchair, she participated, together with Diego de Rivera and Juan O”Gorman, in a protest demonstration against the U.S. intervention in Guatemala.
Frida Kahlo died in Coyoacán on July 13, 1954. No autopsy was performed. Her remains were held at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City and her coffin was covered with the flag of the Mexican Communist Party, a fact that the national press criticized profusely. Her body was cremated at the Dolores Civil Crematorium and her ashes are kept at the Casa Azul in Coyoacán, the place where she was also born.
Her last painting is also exhibited at the Frida Kahlo Museum. It is an oil on masonite that shows several watermelon slices in very vivid tones. On one of these pieces and next to her signature one can read “VIVA LA VIDA. Coyoacán, 1954, Mexico”. The last words in his diary were: “I look forward to the exit and hope never to return”.
Both critics of Frida Kahlo”s work and her biographers agree that any attempt to separate her personal life from her work is almost impossible when analyzing the subject matter, symbology and even the technique of the artist”s work. These are very personal and autobiographical works: Frida is both subject and object of her painting. Difficult to classify univocally in a school, her work is characterized by a synthesis of expressionist and surrealist elements with a popular theme.
The denomination of “surrealist” for his works is based on a mainly historical reason: André Breton defined his work as such in 1938 during a visit he made with his wife Jaqueline in Mexico, where Frida and Diego hosted the couple. At that time, the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme had just taken place in Paris, which Breton had organized together with other prominent artists of the surrealist movement such as Marcel Duchamp, Paul Éluard, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray or Wolfgang Paalen. Frida did not manage to exhibit there, but at the end of that year she managed to mount her first solo exhibition at the Levi Gallery in New York and Breton wrote the prologue, where he reiterates his appreciation of Frida”s work as an exponent of surrealism.
In 1939, Frida travels to Paris to show her paintings with photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo at the Galerie Pierre Colle. During this trip she managed to impress Picasso and Kandinsky with her work. Picasso later wrote Diego Rivera a letter with high praise for Frida, highlighting her skills as a portrait painter: “Neither you, nor Derain, nor I are capable of painting a face like those painted by Frida Kahlo de Rivera”.
A year later, Frida participated with two of her works (The Wounded Table and The Two Fridas) in the Mexican version of the great event in Paris in 1938: the International Exhibition of Surrealists of the Mexican Art Gallery of Inés Amor. An exhibition that also had the support of Breton and in which Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo also participated.
She began painting during her convalescence from the accident she suffered while returning home from school by bus on September 17, 1925 that left her severely injured and with sequelae for the rest of her life. She explained:
My father had for many years a box of oil colors, some brushes… and a palette in a corner of his little photography workshop… I had my eye on the box of colors. I couldn”t explain why. Being sick in bed for so long, I took the opportunity and asked my father for it…. My mother had a carpenter make an easel… that could be attached to the bed where I was, because the plaster corset did not allow me to sit. That”s how I began to paint my first picture, the portrait of a friend of mine…. Next to the bed there was a mirror where Frida saw herself, discovered herself and experimented with her own model, this was the beginning of her numerous self-portraits. This early youthful style was influenced by 19th century Mexican portrait painting of European inspiration.
Married to Diego Rivera in August 1929, Diego”s influence on Frida”s painting is recognized from then on with an important change of style oriented towards Mexicanism, towards Mexican national affirmation. Thus she joined the group of artists, in which Diego participated, who advocated an autochthonous Mexican art, integrating objects from popular art and pre-Columbian culture. In her self-portraits, Frida depicted herself dressed as a peasant or indigenous woman, expressing her identification with the indigenous population.
For four years the couple lived in the United States, from November 1930 until 1934. In Detroit, in his oil painting Henry Ford Hospital, he reflected her tragic second miscarriage: Frida is seen naked on a hospital bed with a white sheet soaked in blood, six red veins coming out of her belly, which are linked to six objects that are symbols of her sexuality and the failed pregnancy.
Painting has filled my life. I have lost three children and a number of other things that could have filled my horrible life. Painting has replaced everything. I think there is nothing better than work.
In her paintings, Frida depicted herself in large, arid landscapes or in cold, empty rooms that emphasized her solitude. The more intimate head or bust portraits were complemented with objects of symbolic meaning. As for the full-length portraits, they were integrated into scenic representations and framed her own biography: her relationship with her husband, how she felt about her body, her illnesses resulting from her youthful accident, her inability to father children, her philosophy of nature and the world. She expressed her fantasies and feelings through her own vocabulary with symbols that need to be deciphered in order to understand her work. These representations broke taboos, especially about the female body and sexuality.
Although she achieved success during her lifetime, Frida Kahlo was slow to gain recognition as an artist. The appreciation of her pictorial work came after her death, taking more than a decade to achieve true international recognition: After her death in 1954, for a long time she was kept silent and only in the early 1970s was she rediscovered in the context of the women”s liberation movement. Since then there have been numerous exhibitions of her works and various tributes to women and to the artist Frida Kahlo, and her fame has grown steadily. In terms of impact, she has long since surpassed Diego Rivera.
Four years after her death, the Casa Azul became the Frida Kahlo Museum. Important international museums and art galleries have dedicated retrospectives to her: the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (1977), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1980), the Whitechapel in London (1982), the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (1993), the Tate Modern in London (2007), the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey (2007) and the Museo Nacional de Colombia, Bogota (2009).
The importance of her pictorial work, the complexity of her life and her influence in the Mexican culture of the post-revolution, where the muralist movement led by her husband was born, have been studied from multiple perspectives and many critical studies have been published. Her personality was forged in a life trajectory plagued by illnesses that caused her continuous pain, as well as in personal relationships with other cultural personalities of the first order. Her work reflects this life trajectory, her own fantasy and the Mexican popular tradition, including that of votive offerings and the pre-Hispanic tradition. For Araceli Rico, Kahlo is “the sick creator (who) experiences the drama of her existence in the rejection of others, striving to maintain a favorable situation for the realization of her creative work”. Kahlo admired revolutionary painting and considered it necessary in her time, but she was aware that her painting was not, so she wrote: “My pictures are well painted, not with lightness, but with patience. My painting carries the message of pain. I believe that at least a few people are interested in it. It is not revolutionary, why am I still under the illusion that it is combative; I can”t”. Therefore, her work cannot be associated with the revolutionary nationalism practiced by her husband Diego Rivera; it is rather a work rooted in popular art. According to A. Rico “we observe in Frida Kahlo a concern for the search of her origins as an individual who belongs and strives to discover the cultural tradition. Thus, in her compositions she is evoking a whole world of customs, beliefs, objects, in short, ways of being and feeling”. A disturbing aspect of her work is the frequent dissociation of herself in several of her self-portraits, this duality can be born both from her own history and from the fantasy of the Mexican people.
For Raúl Mejía, Frida Kahlo forged her own myth and legend with the creation of her own character that appears in most of her work. A strong transgressor in many of the norms and conventions of her time, she also decided to be the protagonist of her paintings. Instead of making a sweet work, as could be expected from a woman of her time, she built a work full of uniqueness with a strong dramatic content both in the themes and in the representations of herself.
Kahlo showed herself in her paintings coexisting with both life and death, especially in her frequent surgical operations, with the constant presence of her pain. In The Broken Spine her body appears covered with nails. She is also shown as a producer of life and energy, or as a source of love and feelings. The theme of relationships and affection appears frequently in her work, especially her great love Diego. But, above all, it is the character she created of herself that is the main motif and protagonist of her paintings. With the passage of time, her message continues to maintain its validity as a cry of denunciation against oppression.
In her diary, which she wrote from the age of 35, she recounted her experiences both in her last decade and in her early years. She wrote about her thoughts, her sexuality, fertility, her physical and psychological sufferings.
Also contributing to the creation of the myth of Frida”s character was the way she dressed and groomed herself, often wearing costumes, necklaces and beads inspired by Mexican folklore, both pre-Columbian and from the colonial period. It was her husband, Diego Rivera, who recommended her to dress this way and give that image. Another complementary factor in the formation of her myth is the iconography she created of herself in the collection of photographs taken by the American photographer Nicholas Muray, one of the first to introduce color photography in the United States.
In the society of her time, where the supremacy of the masculine was common sense, women played a role that clearly subordinated them to men. Frida, despite being married and showing great love for her husband, showed herself to be self-sufficient and strong. She represented herself in her work in an ambiguous way, with androgynous sexual characteristics, with some features considered masculine, exaggerating her eyebrows and her incipient mustache.
She was one of the first painters who expressed in her work the feminine identity from her own point of view, rejecting the vision of the feminine that was drawn from the traditional masculine world. She was one of those who contributed to the formation of a new type of identity for women and is recognized today by many as a symbol. Frida Kahlo was the perfect feminist heroine of the 1980s: her first biography, by Hayden Herrera, was published in 1983, when Madonna and Cindy Sherman were transforming their experiments on female self-representation into an industrial spectacle and interest in Latin American magical realism was increasing.
On March 8, 2018, and to commemorate International Women”s Day, the American toy brand Mattel announced that it was bringing out a line of Barbie dolls called Sheroes, from “She” (she) and “Heroes” (heroine), and among many other characters were inspired by the painter as a model for this line. However, Frida”s family denounced the company, alleging that they did not have legal permission to reproduce the figure of the artist.
Reception in literature
Undoubtedly, Frida Kahlo”s work has had the greatest impact on literature, inspiring writers of various genres. The Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska in her work Las siete cabritas (“Diego estoy sola. Diego no estoy sola”) includes a story in which she tries to put herself in Frida”s place, narrating her sorrows in the first person. In the poetic genre there are examples also in other languages and continents, as shown in Pascale Petit”s book of poetry published in London under the title The Wounded Deer. Fourteen Poems After Frida Kahlo. In each of these poems, Petit refers to a different painting by Frida Kahlo. Finally, there is an extensive series of novels inspired by the life of Frida Kahlo, as well as the couple Frida and Diego and various novelized biographies in several languages, such as Diego ist der Name der Liebe : das Schicksal der Frida Kahlo (Diego is the Name of Love: The Fate of Frida Kahlo) (2000) by Barbara Krause, Rauda Jamis (2000), Barbara Mujica (2003), J. M. G. Le Clezio (2002).
Reception at the cinema
Frida Kahlo has been portrayed in the following films:
Reception in music
The lead singer of the American band Red Hot Chili Peppers, Anthony Kiedis, dedicated the song “Scar Tissue” to Frida.
In 1994 the song “Pobre Frida” appeared on the album Transgresores de la Ley, by the Mexican rock and ska group Tijuana No, dedicated to the painter.
The American singer Madonna has reaffirmed her taste and admiration for Frida Kahlo, such is the case of her 1994 video Bedtime Story in which several scenes are inspired by the famous paintings of the artist. In 2015 she was inspired by a photograph taken of Frida for the cover of her album Rebel Heart. In that same album she is mentioned in the song “Graffiti Heart”.
Also in 1994, Mexican multidisciplinary artist Sergio Arau, former member of the rock band Botellita de Jerez, released his second album as a soloist, where he appears parodying a work of Frida on the album cover. The name of the album is Mi Frida…. Suffered.
In 1995 the band Bandit Queen released an album called “Hormone Hotel”, whose cover is a portrait of Frida, and contains a song called “Frida Kahlo”.
In 1999 Pedro Guerra published the song “El Elefante y la Paloma”, which talks about Frida and Diego Rivera, in his album Raíz.
In 2007, Spanish singer Marta Sánchez performed a song in tribute to her entitled “Frida y sus flores”, which is included in her album Miss Sánchez.
Joaquín Sabina also remembers her in his song “Por el boulevard de los sueños rotos”, which in a verse says: “Diego Rivera, pencil in hand, draws Frida Kahlo naked”.
Likewise, the British band Coldplay named their fourth album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, as well as the single “Viva La Vida” in honor of Frida”s painting with that phrase.
Singer Florence Welch”s band, Florence + The Machine, was inspired by Frida”s painting titled “What the Water Gave Me” in their song What the Water Gave Me.
Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona in the song “Sin ti sin mi” in one part of the lyrics says: “What does Frida do without suffering?”
The Argentine singer Fito Paez in his song “Lo que el viento nunca se llevó” mentions: “Today Frida paints the sky from over there”.
The Romanian singer Inna in the videoclip of her song “Dame tu amor”, made together with the Mexican band Reik, makes reference to Frida Kahlo in her clothes, in the scenes of painting and costumes that look like bones and corsets. In addition, during her “Party Never Ends Tour” in Mexico, Inna used costumes related to the painter.
Centenary of his birth
In 2007 was the 100th anniversary of Frida”s birth, so in her native country, as well as around the world, exhibitions, events and tributes were prepared to celebrate this great anniversary. As an example, a French airline on its flights to Mexico showed films about Frida, and the menu offered to its customers bore names alluding to the painter.
The exhibition organized at the Palacio de Bellas Artes under the name “Frida Kahlo 1907-2007. National Homage”, in which 354 pieces were exhibited, including oil paintings, drawings, watercolors, engravings, letters and photographs, making up the largest exhibition on Frida ever held, according to the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA). This exhibition of the life and work of Frida, considered by critics to be the best-known Mexican artist in the world, had attracted more than 415,000 visitors by the close of the exhibition on Saturday, August 18.
With these numbers, the exhibition on Frida not only broke the attendance record for exhibitions shown at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, but has become one of the most visited exhibitions mounted in Mexico.
The Blue House
The Casa Azul, today the Frida Kahlo Museum, is located in Coyoacán, on the corner of Londres and Allende, Mexico City. Here Frida Kahlo was born, grew up, spent most of her life and worked. This house had been built by her parents in 1904 and appears, also in blue, painted by Frida in a 1936 painting (My Grandparents, My Parents and I, an oil and tempera on metal 30.7 x 34.5 cm). This work shows Frida as a little girl emerging from the central courtyard of the Coyoacán house, above her her parents and in the middle of the ocean her grandparents. It has been argued that this painting would prove that the house was always blue.
After Frida Kahlo”s death, the house was donated by Diego Rivera and since 1957 has been a museum that houses objects from her life and is a popular destination for tourists.
Frida Kahlo Art Gallery
In 1997 the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa decided to inaugurate the Frida Kahlo Art Gallery in an old and spacious house in the city of Culiacán. For more than 20 years the Frida Kahlo Gallery has positioned itself as the epicenter of the arts in northwestern Mexico, holding important events such as national and international exhibitions, cultural exchanges, workshops, and encouraging cultural outreach activities of the educational faculty.