Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, or Frida Kahlo, was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyocan Mexico City, Mexico (Earwood, 2017). Frida Kahlo is revered as one of Mexico’s greatest artists. Famously known for herself portraits that told her life’s story, Frida was also known for her empowering feminist views, political affiliations, bisexuality, and most importantly her resiliency. While it is challenging to separate her art work from her life, Frida’s self-portraits depict the pain, depression, suffering, and happiness she knew too well.
Frida was born in a blue house built by her father, Guillermo Kahlo. The house is forever known as “La Casa Azul” or the blue house (Antelo, 2013). Frida’s father was a German Jewish immigrant and her mother Matilde Calderon an Indian woman from Oaxaca, Mexico. Frida had two sisters and two half-sisters but, she was closest to her younger sister Cristina. Frida’s mom was a devout catholic woman who raised her children to be as religious as she was. However, both Frida and Cristina were extremely mischievous and rebellious. It is important to note that Frida’s mother suffered with depression most of her life. She was deeply unhappy which has to do with the fact that when she was younger, a man she was romantically involved committed suicide (Antelo, 2013). It was apparent through Frida’s life that she never fully recovered. Frida’s father was exceptionally fond of her and considered her to be his favorite child. Guillermo knew Frida was vastly intelligent and supported anything Frida did.
Frida’s early life was stifled with poor health. At the young age of six, Frida contracted polio which left her right leg thinner and shriveled (Earwood, 2017). She spent around nine months in insolation at home. Due to the polio, she had a limp the rest of her life to which she occluded by wearing traditional Mexican skirts and men’s pants. Wearing traditional Mexican skirts was something Frida is known for even to this day. Her supportive father quickly encouraged Frida to participate in sports such as swimming, boxing, and wrestling to keep her mind off sickness and aid in her recovery (Earwood, 2017). In addition, Guillermo wanted to show Frida how to deal with the bullying she experienced and the loneliness of being in the house for so long. Despite knowing that these activities were typically male sports, Frida nonetheless took part eagerly. Since an early age, Frida claimed she wanted to be a boy and often dressed in men’s clothes as a teenager. She was considered, by many, to be unladylike (Antelo, 2013).
Due to the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910, the Kahlo household had to house many of the revolutionaries (Zapatistas) that came to their small city. This made a large impact on Frida’s life for she eventually became vastly involved in politics. Regardless of the blood shed, Mexicans had a strong belief in their cause and the leaders of the revolution became famous in Mexico’s history ( Earwood, 2017) . With Mexico finally gaining freedom from the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, Frida found herself in the middle of many freedoms not previously had by Mexico (Earwood, 2017).
Mexico was finally finding itself and celebrating indigenous heritage. In 1922, Frida was one of 35 girls admitted into a prestigious school known as the National Preparatory School or “ La Preparatiora” (Bautista, 2012). Frida became known amongst her peers as being outspoken and charming. Frida was an exceptional student; she learned how to read in three languages and had dreams of becoming a doctor. Frida was typically surrounded by boys and they named their group, “ Las Cachuchas” or the caps (Earwood, 2017). Amongst her circle of friends there was constant debates over political and religious beliefs. It was at this school where she first met Diego Rivera, a man who was a muralist painting the school. Diego Rivera was a renowned artist who was heavily inspired by Spanish conquests, industrialization, and the struggles faced by the working class. In addition, Diego was a communist and an atheist which manifested itself in daring murals. Despite Diego being 20 years older than Frida, she was immediately captivated by him. By the age of 16, Frida became romantically involved with one of the boys in her group of friends named Alejandro Gomez (Earwood, 2017).
In 1925, at the age of 18 Frida’s life changed forever. Frida and Alejandro were on a bus that was struck by a trolley which left her severely injured. She was ejected out of the bus and had a metal handrail impale her abdomen that exited her back (Earwood, 2017). Frida’s spine and pelvis were broken in three areas which resulted in 35 operations leaving her in chronic pain the rest of her life (Earwood, 2017). Her right leg, the same leg which caused her to limp from polio, was broken in 11 places. She suffered three broken ribs and a broken collarbone. Medical specialists were doubtful of her surviving this horrible accident and close friends described her operations as having to put her back together piece by piece. Frida suffered extreme depression as a result, she referred to her accident as transitioning from being a child and carefree to old and bland (Earwood, 2017). Frida was once more confined to the blue house for about a year as she was when had polio. Bedridden and in a full body cast, Frida experienced crippling hopelessness, loneliness, and depression (Earwood, 2017). Frida was taught by her father at a young age, to combat sickness with sports, so it was of upmost importance to her to find a way to remain active.
In 1926, Frida began to paint on her own body cast. From there, Frida’s father decided to create an easel for her to paint on. A mirror was added to the ceiling of her room so, as she lay in bed recovering, she would be able to use herself as a model. Frida at last found comfort in painting and was known for saying, “ I paint myself because I am alone. I paint myself because I am the subject I know best “ (Earwood, 2017). Frida’s first self-portrait was gifted to her lover Alejandro Gomez as a means to reconcile their relationship. Gomez had discovered Frida’s infidelity to him with men and women prior to the accident. Although Gomez accepted Frida’s gift their relationship eventually deteriorated.
During this time, Mexico City was considered to be a place artists would go to be free to express themselves however they wished. By contrast, the cities surrounding Mexico City were still oppressed and people experienced judgement and prejudice. During this time, Frida became well acquainted with communists and was reunited with her love for debate, dancing, and drinking tequila. By the time Frida and Diego Rivera were reunited, Diego had already been divorced twice with three children and was involved in various love affairs (Antelo 2013). Diego was considered by many as an unattractive man. He was around six feet and weighed about 300 pounds. Despite his ugliness, Diego had the ability to draw large quantities of women to him (Antelo 2013). Although Frida knew Diego to be a womanizer, she nonetheless approached him while he was working on a mural and asked what his honest opinion of her work was.
Diego was deeply moved by Frida’s self-portraits and her presence. Diego later went to Coyocan to see the rest of Frida’s portraits. They fell in love almost immediately, and despite the disapproval from Frida’s parents, married on August 21st, 1929. Frida’s father told Diego that his daughter was sick and will be sick all her life. He told Diego that she was exceptionally intelligent but not attractive and for him to ponder whether he truly wants to marry his daughter. Frida’s mother commonly referred to Diego and Frida as the union of an elephant and a dove (Earwood 2017).
Even though Frida and Diego were married, this did not cause a caseation to his infidelity. In fact, a doctor even went so far as to tell Diego that he is incapable of monogamy, to which Diego was all too happy to hear. After not even a year of marriage, Diego had an affair. Frida was devastated, hurt, and above all angry. In addition to the troubles she was facing in her marriage, she became pregnant that same year but with her medical history she had a abortion (Antelo 2013). Deeply saddened by this event Frida became increasingly worried she would not be able to have a child with Diego. During this time, Frida did not want to be an artist and merely used art as a way to escape the turmoil she was constantly exposed to. Influenced by artwork of Jesus Christ, she was able to relate to the blood and sadness depicted to her own life that consisted of surgeries, pain, suffering, and sadness (Antelo, 2013).
In 1931, Diego was invited to paint a mural in the United States and Frida tagged along. Their first stop was San Francisco, California then New York. Frida enjoyed New York but missed Mexico. Frida started getting used to the US and become acquainted with a variety of people such as Charly Chaplin and Henry Ford (Earwood, 2017) . Frida was always making inappropriate jokes and pretended she did not know what she said in English were curse words (Bautista, 2012). She was always making a scene and making those around her laugh it seemed, as if to mask the internal struggles and pains she was no stranger too. While in the Detroit, Michigan, Frida once again became pregnant and during the summer she started experiencing hemorrhaging and was rushed to the hospital (Earwood, 2017). Overwhelmed with grief Frida remained in the hospital for 13 days.
During those days she asked for a pencil and paper and began to draw. She soon realized she was able to express her anguish through her drawings. Detroit was major turning point for Frida; she consciously made the decision to be an artist. Through her artwork, Frida was able to depict many genres while showcasing her most intimate struggles was ultimately what makes Frida’s work so unique. Frida’s artwork was her only way to tell her story. Frida was able to give her pain meaning through art and creativity. Despite her disabilities, she was able to manifest every sorrow and every joy she experienced. Also, Frida was able to give voice to those who could not freely express the on goings of their lives or their personal struggles. Frida was able to find beauty and meaning in the brokenness of herself.
To Diego’s dislike, after four years in the United States, both he and Frida went back to Mexico (Earwood, 2017). Diego quickly found himself involved with another woman. To Frida’s dismay, his mistress was her own sister Cristina. Frida has constantly mentioned that she has never in her life felt more betrayed and hurt (Earwood, 2017). Frida stopped wearing her traditional Mexican skirts and cut her hair short. She moved away from Diego and expressed that fidelity was a means to exploit people. No longer would Frida allow herself to be restricted and confined. She began to paint and take lovers both men and women alike. Her motto became make love, take a bath, make love again (Antelo,2013).
Frida was discrete about her affairs because Diego was extremely jealous. Nikolas Muray a famous photographer, was one of Frida’s serious love affairs (Antelo, 2013). Frida wrote Nikolas a letter where she stated that only Diego would be as close to her heart as he is (Earwood, 2017). No one could ever replace Diego in Frida’s heart. Her love for him was unsurmountable. In her diary, Frida describes Diego as a man who could never be someone’s husband but as a life partner. After a year apart Frida decided to move back in with Diego in the house, he had built for them. This house was particularly interesting as they both lived in separate houses, Frida’s was smaller but both houses were connected by a bridge.
One of Frida’s lovers mentioned how much Frida loved to dance (Earwood. 2017). Anything she was not able to do she loved. She let her hair grow and once again wore her traditional Mexican dresses. What was so radical about Frida was that people often did not expect a person with the disabilities she had to be so lively and radiant. Frida had an appetite for life that seemed insatiable and was not marked by how many women and men she slept with, but by her refusal to give up on herself.
Around the mid 1930s, Diego went to ask the president for amnesty for Leon Trotsky and his wife (Bautista, 2012). She let the Trotsky’s live in the blue house, eventually Trotsky and Frida had a brief affair. In 1938, Frida staged her 1st solo exhibition in New York at the Lexy Gallery (Bautista, 2012). During this time, Frida began to make an even bigger name for herself. She was treated as Frida Kahlo, a separate being not just the wife of Diego Rivera. She was well liked and deeply respected by other artists. Also, during this time Andre Breton a surrealist poet and his colleagues began exploring Sigmund Freud’s theories of the subconscious (Earwood, 2017). Andre decided to visit Trotsky in Mexico, where reality itself was surreal. There he came across Frida’s surrealism who is deeply influenced by her immense knowledge of Mexican culture. Frida did not see herself as a surrealist she painted what was reality for her. Invited by Andre to attend a Paris exhibit, Frida was disappointed to find that a show had not been prepared and that her artwork remained in customs (Earwood, 2017). She grew sick and ended up in the hospital for a chronic back, foot, and an infection in her kidneys. A large quantity of women offered to care for Frida, one of which was Andre’s wife Jaqueline Lamba. They developed a love affair (Antelo,2013). Eventually, when her paintings were released from customs and had a successful exhibit, she was put on the cover of Time magazine (Bautista, 2012). At this exhibition Pablo Picasso gave Frida a pair of earrings shaped like tiny hands which Frida painted in one of her self-portraits (Earwood, 2017).
In April 1939, Frida returned to Mexico to Diego who had enjoyed his time without her presence. Their relationship was in turmoil until she moved back to the blue house. Distraught and feeling alone, Frida often wrote in a diary how she felt. Being who she was, Frida experienced profound loneliness and often found herself stating that only she felt the pain she felt and that no one else experienced the constant troubles that have taken place in her life. She once more cut her hair off and developed alcoholism (Earwood, 2017). She drank a large bottle of brandy a day and began one of her most recognized paintings, called the Two Fridas (Earwood, 2017). In the painting, one Frida was dressed in traditional Mexican clothes and the other was not. Frida said one of the Frida’s was the one Diego loved and the other was not (Antelo, 2013).
When Diego left for San Francisco with his young attractive assistant, Frida’s health plummeted. For three months, Frida was confined to her bed yet again. When the news of Frida’s health reached Diego, he was deeply saddened and worried (Bautista, 2012). Frida went to San Francisco to see a specialist for her spine and to consider Diego’s offer to remarry. While in the hospital, reconciling with Diego helped her regain her health increasingly fast, but she did not tell Diego whether she agreed to marry him again. Frida had an affair with Heinz Berggruen, an art dealer who worked for Diego (Earwood, 2017). Heinz fell in love with Frida immediately, and described her as beautiful inside and out. They were together for only a short while and Heinz felt Frida always wanted to get back to Diego. Frida married Diego once more on his 51st birthday (Antelo, 2013).
In 1943, Frida was asked to join the education Ministry’s School of Painting and Sculpture known as “La Esmeralda” (Earwood, 2017). For a brief period of a few months, Frida taught until her health deterioriated. Four extremely devoted students would take a bus to Coyocan to continue getting taught by her. Her students were nicknamed “ Los Fridos” and they were motivated to think outside the box. When visiting her house, they found that they were inspired by her spider monkeys, and parrots she let roam wild and free (Bautista, 2012). She also had a unique array of plants in every part of her house. Her students recall that the very house she lived in awoke an inspiration in them. By 1944, Frida’s health steadily declined and continued to do so until her death on 1954 (Earwood, 2017). The following year she became as depressed as ever, and frequently used morphine to deal with her constant pain. In addition to her alcoholism she developed an addiction to painkillers. Her spine was extremely weak and needed assistance to walk or stand. She got gangrene on her foot, the same foot that contracted polio and had been in 11 places.
Frida’s journal was one of the major items in her life she used to cope with her ever present problematic issues. Frida became increasingly clingy and needy. She despised being on her own maybe because she experienced loneliness her whole life. In 1953, a friend created her first exhibition in Mexico; Frida was so sick that she arrived by ambulance to her own show (Earwood, 2017). Once she was back in the blue house she was confined to a wheelchair, the gangrene caused her to get her leg amputated below the knee. Her last painting was a painting of watermelons and at the bottom read the words, “Via la Vida” long live life (Earwood, 2017). At the age of 47 Frida died in her bed. Her closest friends braided her hair the way she liked and put on all her rings and jewelry.
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