Spotlight on Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is a Mexican artist known for the pain and passion that she portrayed in her iconic paintings. Kahlo is celebrated in Mexico for her focus on Mexican and culture. She's also a symbol of feminism as she was outspoken about the female experience at a time when the subject was still very much taboo.
"Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away. Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing" - Frida Kahlo
Frida enjoyed art from an early age. She received drawing lessons from a family friend, printmaker Fernando Fernández and filled entire notebooks with sketches and doodles. Although she was always drawing, her dream was to become a doctor. That dream was lost when she was involved in a bus accident at the age of eighteen. She suffered multiple fractures of her spine, collarbone and ribs, a shattered pelvis, broken foot and dislocated shoulder. That's when Frida took up the paintbrush once again.
As a child who suffered from polio, Kahlo was no stranger to pain and suffering. But this new trauma trapped her in bed for over 3 months. She had a special easel made that allowed her to paint while in bed, and a mirror above her that allowed her to see herself. She produced many self-portraits during this time. Finding herself in a body cast, Kahlo used this time to explore questions of identity and existence. She called it a time "to begin again, painting things just as [she] saw them with [her] own eyes and nothing more." The subject of her art during this time was herself. She drew herself in different scenarios, mostly concerning her current state of recovery. Many paintings depicted Kahlo's body distorted, in casts or in pain.
Later, as Frida was influenced by Mexicanidad - the romantic nationalist that developed in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution - her paintings started to depict Mexican folk culture. This movement claimed to resist the mindset of cultural inferiority created by colonialism and placed more importance on indigenous cultures. Kahlo's artistic ambition became to paint for the Mexican people. She stated that she aimed to "be worthy, with my paintings, of the people to whom I belong and to the ideas which strengthen me."
Frida Kahlo married Diego Riviera in 1929. Soon after their marriage, the couple moved to Cuernavaca in the rural state of Morelos where he had been commissioned to paint murals for the Palace of Cortés. This is when Frida began to dress in the traditional indigenous way, mainly to emphasize her mestiza (someone born of European and indigenous descent) ancestry: long and colorful skirts, huipils and rebozos, elaborate headdresses and masses of jewelry.
Kahlo and Riviera moved back to Mexico City in 1934. They lived in a house commissioned by a student of Le Corbusier's, Juan O'Gorman. It consisted of two sections joined together by a bridge. Kahlo's was blue and Riviera's pink and white. The bohemian residence became an important meeting place for artists and political activists from Mexico and abroad. The couple even petitioned the Mexican government to grant asylum to former Soviet leader Leon Trotsky and offered La Casa Azul for him and his wife as residence.They lived there from 1937 to 1939.
Frida's health was continuously declining and by 1950 she spent most of her time in hospital, undergoing surgery. Even when discharged, she was confined to her home using a wheelchair and crutches to move around. During the final years of her life, Kahlo dedicated her time to political causes to the extent that her health allowed. She had rejoined the Mexican Communist Party in 1948 and campaigned for peace.
Frida Kahlo has left us with a treasure trove of art and a portal to a beautiful, though often misunderstood, world.
"They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality." - Frida Kahlo