Many people might recognise Frida Kahlo–either from her interesting and colourful self-portraits, or from the film where she was portrayed by Salma Hayek. Either way, not many people know too much about her life.
Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, 3 years before the Mexican Revolution. At the age of 6, she contracted polio, which made one leg thinner than the other. Some argue that she also had spina bifida. Despite these ailments, she enjoyed playing sports when she was younger and began to study medicine. Growing up during the revolution was trying, and she witnessed many horrible things, especially in her teenage years. In 1925, when she was 18, Kahlo was riding on a bus when it crashed into a trolley car. She was left with many broken bones including her collarbone, several ribs, her pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, a dislocated shoulder, and a severed spinal column. On top of this, her abdomen and her uterus were stabbed by a handrail. Because of this accident, she was in pain most of her life and underwent around 35 surgeries. She also suffered many miscarriages.
After the accident, Kahlo began to paint to ease her mind and to simply have something to do whilst recuperating. She taught herself, and became a figure of the surrealist movement. Later, painting became an outlet to project some of the pain and awkwardness she felt. She often painted herself, 55 of her 143 paintings are self-portraits.
“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”
She married fellow painter Diego Rivera in 1929, and together they encouraged one another’s work. Their marriage was passionate, but tempestuous, and they both strayed from the marriage bed often. Kahlo was bisexual, and had many relationships with women, supposedly including Josephine Baker, the entertainer and activist (keep a look out for an upcoming ‘Inspirational Women’ post about her). Kahlo and Rivera divorced in 1939, but remarried in 1940.
Kahlo and Rivera were Communist supporters, and even shared their home with Leon Trotsky before he moved to Coyoacán (the ‘heart’ of Mexico’s Federal District). It was in Coyoacán, in 1940, where Trotsky was assassinated.
Later in life, Frida’s thinner, right, leg was amputated at the knee due to gangrene. She spent the last year of her life ill, for various reasons, and in 1954 died. Some think she suffered a pulmonary embolism, while others believed she overdosed. An autopsy was never performed.
Though her life was filled with pain, and oftentimes, tragedy, her life and her work are inspirational. To overcome adversity and to live the way you want to live despite what others around you believe, say, or want is the dream of many. The vibrancy and potency of her work, along with its symbolism, make her a unique and beloved artist in Mexico and across the globe. Take a look at some of her paintings–really look. See if you can feel what she’s trying to show you. It’s amazing.