Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist, lives in the mind and soul of every woman who knows about her. Her self- portraits, political activism and feminist way of living have left a mark on people around the world, granting her the status of being a rebel in a world controlled by patriarchy.
In the year 1924, the 17-year-old Frida Kahlo posed for the family photograph wearing a traditional gentleman’s 3- piece suit. Bold, if you ask me. This is Frida Kahlo for you. When I think of her, I think of her vivid self- portraits and artwork, her unibrow and the moustache she kept and the radical feminism she represented. She’s had a life one can only imagine. Nothing, absolutely nothing could stop her from the path she had chosen for herself.
Women have been, since time immemorial, looking for role models and idols, especially the women of colour. Frida Kahlo is just the woman, a woman whose revolutionary politics and painful personal life is a compelling and inspiring story in itself. Today, the Mexican artist’s work sells more than any other female artist in the world.
Frida spent most of her childhood bed-ridden. Frida had polio when she was six. At the age of 18, she met with a bus accident that marred her for life. She was skewered by a metal handrail that entered through her hip and exited through her vagina. After the accident, she decided to leave her medical career and pursue her childhood passion of becoming an artist. “Feet, what do I need them for, if I have wings to fly?” Frida Kahlo wrote in her diary. She was born on 6 July 1907 three years before the Mexican Revolution. Her mother was a Mexican Catholic and father, a European atheist who taught her the nuances of photography. In 1927, she joined the Mexican Communist Party where she met her future husband and artist Diego Rivera. When Frida was 22 she got married to the 42-year-old Diego.
Her marriage with Diego was tumultuous and rocky. It was an unconventional union where Frida and Diego shared their love for art and politics. It survived Diego’s reckless infidelities, Frida’s miscarriages and her inability to have children, her poor health and even her bisexual affairs. Diego cheated on Frida with her sister, Cristina. Later, Frida had a passionate affair with Marxist revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. The two of them were unfit for monogamy, to say the least. The couple got divorced in 1940 but they remarried again within a year. It is believed that she slept with her husband’s mistress after she found about the extramarital affair.
Frida loved her country more than anything else. She was deeply influenced by the Mexican culture and often used it in her artwork with the use of bright colours and dramatic symbols and signs. She especially loved the cultural aesthetics of the Tehuantepec, a matriarchal society in the Tehuantepec Isthmus, a tropical rainforest in southern Mexico. Their clothing, in particular, caught her eye—the reboza’s (traditional Mexican shawl) colour, the huipil’s (blouse) elegance, the grandeur of traditional Tehuana dresses.
The days when she couldn’t walk, she would stare at herself in the hand mirror and paint. Her self- portraits depicted the physical pain she endured her entire adult life as well as the psychological wounds. ”I will paint myself,” Frida Kahlo once said, “because I am so often alone because I am the subject I know best.”
Frida was unapologetic about who she was. She loved to wear makeup, dance, and flirt. She fiercely embraced her life, full of challenges and obstacles. She was true and honest to herself and used to reject the label of being a ‘surrealist’ painter. She took up space which rightfully belonged to her. Through her paintings, she openly talked about subjects which the public viewed to be a taboo like abortion, domestic violence, and divorce. Frida’s art refreshes you and her style of painting communicates with you, often in heartbreaking ways. She died in 1954, but her legacy, her truthfulness, and unabashed love for life continue to live decades later. Her paintings, journal entries, medical equipment and personal items are on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London with the exhibition titled Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up.
Feature Image Credits: 1843 Magazine