Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón, that’s a long name! Now I understand why she was known only as Frida Kahlo, and to be honest, just by mentioning the name Frida, we know exactly who we are talking about: the female icon of Mexican Art.
Born in Coyoacán, México in 1907, Frida always gave her birth date as July 7, 1910 as she allegedly wanted the year of her birth to coincide with the year of the beginning of the Mexican revolution so that her life would begin with the birth of modern Mexico.
Frida’s life was dramatic, full of sorrow and pain; at the age of six, she developed polio, which caused her right leg to appear much thinner than the other. She suffered lifelong health problems, many of which derived from a traffic accident during her teenage years, Kahlo was riding in a bus when the vehicle collided with a trolley car. She suffered serious injuries, including broken spinal column, collarbone, ribs, pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. Also, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, which seriously damaged her reproductive ability.
After the accident, she painted to occupy her time during her temporary immobilization and that’s how her painting career began. Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes. Her self-portraits became a dominant part of her life when she was immobile for three months after her accident. Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”
Frida’s work express her personal experiences, including her marriage, her miscarriages, and her numerous operations, characterizing her work by their suggestions of pain. Always influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism.
Kahlo had a volatile marriage with the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. They were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Frida’s mother. Their marriage was in constant troubles Frida and Diego had both irritable temperaments and numerous extramarital affairs. The bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men and women; Rivera knew of, and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous.
On her side, Frida, was furious when she found out that Diego had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Their second marriage wasn’t much different than the first one. Their living quarters were often separate, although sometimes adjacent.
Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, in the same “Blue House” where she was born, and a few days before her death she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida”. The official cause of death was a pulmonary embolism, although some suspected that she died from an overdose that may or may not have been accidental.
Frida’s urn with her ashes is on display in her former home, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán, which since 1958 has been maintained as a museum housing a number of her works of art and numerous momentos and artifacts from her personal life.
She always insisted, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”