Hi, my name is Annette and I’m a selfie addict. I have to admit that a good selfie with a great angle and impeccable lighting is what I LIVE for! Still, the Queen of the Selfie is none other than Mexican Artist, Frida Kahlo. Considered one of Mexico’s most prolific artists, Kahlo created 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits. Since I was a child I’ve been in awe of Frida’s triumphant story. To wrap up Women’s History Month I wanted to share a few interesting things I’ve learned about Frida and why she means so much to me.
I grew up in a lower-class neighborhood in one of the richest counties in the country. I lived in a predominately latin neighborhood where we were one of two black families in our large apartment complex. So, needless to say, some of my closest friends are latin. I grew up watching telenovelas, listening to Selenas and dancing to cumbia and merengue at as many quinces as possible! I was a little girl when I saw my first image of Frida. Her floral crown was mesmerizing and her unibrow was attention grabbing.
The Student, learning from the Master.
After digging in a little deeper, I realized that Frida was one of the original members of the Body Positive Movement. She was not only a fearless fashionista, she was a survivor. Frida became ill as a child, contracting polio at age six. While it did take a toll on her body, it did not hold her back. She was encouraged as a child to play soccer, swim and even wrestle. In her lifetime, she had over 30 operations, nevertheless, she persisted. For me, body positivity is inclusive of physical and mental health challenges, abilities and disabilities. I think Frida was one of the first women to embrace her flaws in such a public way.
Kahlo wore long skirts to take the focus away from her leg deformity, polio’s beauty mark. While drawing attention to her infamous unibrow and mustache which she would occasionally darken. It was through pain that Frida was able to discover her true self and her personal style. Her signature look is that of thick dark braids surrounded by ribbon and a floral crown. Many say that the floral crown trend is an example of cultural appropriation. I must admit that I have participated in this. I have bought tote bags that don Frida’s face and I even have a copy of one of her self-portraits hanging up in my apartment. The truth is, Frida herself is guilty of cultural appropriation.
Kahlo’s father, Carl was a German photographer who traveled to Mexico for work. Her mother, Matilde was of Mexican and Spanish decent. Frida was often seen wearing dresses designed in the indigenous Tehuana style. However, she was not indigenous. Yet, as a feminist, she admired the Tehuana costumes because she idolized the matriarchial society. Frida made fashion a major part of her brand.
In 1922 Frida meets her future husband, muralist and political activist Diego Rivera while attending National Preparatory School in Mexico City. In 1925 she was involved in a near-fatal bus accident that left her with a broken spine and pelvis. After weeks in the hospital, Kahlo was released in a body cast and that’s when her creativity was unleashed. Her first selfie, Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress was painted in the classical Renaissance style. Frida created this for a lover to remember by and had it delivered to his home. She would refer to herself as “your Bottcelli” when she wrote him love letters.
Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress, 1926
Painting Through the Pain
In 1928 Kahlo becomes a member of the Mexican Communist Party where reconnects with Rivera. The two soon marry and quickly begin traveling as Rivera was commissioned for work all over the world.
In 1932 Frida suffers her second miscarriage at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detriot. The Henry Ford Hospital painting is a graphic depiction of her pain and helplessness. Kahlo’s torso is propped up on a pillow while her lower body is twisted away. Six objects are connected to her by an umbilical cord like ribbon. Showing a male fetus and medical tools among other representative objects. In the background, you see the mills and steel that has become synonymous with Detriot. Frida’s art uses a great mix of honesty and metaphor which allow you to empathize with her.
Henry Ford Hospital, 1932
While Frida and Diego were in love, they had an alternative relationship, to say the least! They kept separate homes and studios. Rivera was known to stray, but Frida’s heart was broken when she discovered that Rivera was having an affair with her sister Cristina. After the separation, Frida trades her feminine mystic for a more modern style. After an exhibition trip to Paris where she befriended the likes of Pablo Picasso. Frida Painted one of her most famous pieces to date.
In 1939 Frida paints The Two Fridas. The portrait shows the dichotomy of two women. Modern Frida is whole, independent and wearing European style clothing. While the other Frida is dressed in a traditional Tehuana costume, Diego’s favorite. Her heart is broken and torn open. Traditional Frida is holding surgical pinchers in her hand as blood drips down her white dress. That is the year Frida and Diego divorce.
The Two Fridas, 1939
Right after her divorce, she painted a Self Portrait with Cropped Hair. A departure from her previous work where she is seen in feminine dresses and colorful accessories. This piece shows her in a man’s suit, scissors in hand and strands of hair all around her. The lyrics on the top of the portrait reads,
“See, if I loved you, it was for your hair, now you’re bald, I don’t love you anymore.” – Frida Kahlo
Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair, 1940
On December 8, 1940, Frida married Rivera for the second time in San Francisco, Ca. This time, they continued to live in separate homes and basically had an open marriage. It’s ironic that this unique couple chose one of the most liberal states to remarry. I relate to this on a personal level, because I too tried an open relationship, and it just wasn’t for me.
In the powerful painting The Broken Column, Kahlo tells the story of her constant pain and suffering. During this period she had to wear special corsets to protect her spine after multiple surgeries. By 1950 Frida’s health starts to take a turn for the worse. Still, she continued creating and in 1953 while bedridden, she attended the opening ceremony for a solo exhibit in Mexico. She arrived by ambulance and greeted guests from a bed the gallery set up for her.
The Broken Column, 1944
When Frida passed in 1954 she was still married to Diego. She did not gain notoriety until after her death. During her life, she was most known as Diego Rivera’s wife. While their stories will be forever intertwined. I think it’s safe to say that Rivera is just one chapter in the masterpiece of a life that Frida created. In spite of the challenges and obstacles thrown in her way.
“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” – Frida Kahlo
It’s astounding to think that if Frida’s father hadn’t moved to Mexico for work. That the women and artist I relate to on so many levels would not exist. Who knows what my upcoming travel adventure will bring, but learning more about Frida’s story and art made my connection to her even stronger.
I hope you enjoyed learning a few interesting facts about Frida and why she means so much to me. What artist has impacted you the most? Which artist speaks to you?
Source: Frida Kahlo.org