This is the first post in my Women's History Month series, Legendary Latinas, in which I highlight the lives and accomplishments of influential Latinas. Please read the disclaimer if you have questions about my sources, otherwise, ENJOY!
I was never the biggest fan of visual art, being more musically-inclined, but Frida Kahlo was the first exception to that. Her paintings are raw and real, and there is an honesty and vulnerability in them that I have always been drawn to. She was self-taught and perhaps that's why she wasn't afraid to pour her heart out on the canvas in a very special way. I remember being in awe of several paintings when seeing them for the first (and second, and third) time, and her depictions of reproduction, sexuality, and personal struggles are among my favorite paintings by any artist.
But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself if you don't know who she is or don't know very much about her. Here's a cliff notes version of her bio:
Frida was born in Mexico in 1907 to a father of Hungarian/German descent, and a mother of Mexican, indigenous and Spanish descent. When she was 18, she was in an accident that left her with a number of serious injuries. She was bedridden and her father got her paints and brushes to occupy her time. She never fully recovered from the accident and had several other health problems throughout her life, but this is when she started painting seriously.
Frida married Mexican artist (and fellow Communist) Diego Rivera a few years after her accident, when he was 42 and she was 22. To say they had a tumultuous relationship would be an understatement. Diego was never faithful (even sleeping with Frida's sister), and after putting up with that for a while, Frida started having her own affairs with men and women (including Leon Trotsky). They were on again, off again, divorced and remarried, and spent a great deal of time living together, but under separate roofs.
And that's as good an intro as any because, really, her paintings are a much better biography than any words in print will ever be.
Her relationship with Diego was one that I don't think anybody will ever really understand. But, for all of their problems, they certainly couldn't seem to let each other go. Diego was the subject of many of Frida's paintings, directly or indirectly. Her ambivalence about their relationship is depicted in The Two Fridas. She painted a Frida in a Mexican dress, holding a picture of Diego that's meant to symbolize the woman he loved. The other Frida is in a European dress with her heart bleeding out, meant to represent the Frida that Diego didn't want.
But Diego was hardly her only inspiration. Reproduction and fertility, including her own troubles in these areas, made its way to the canvas a number of times. One of my favorite paintings, Flower of Life, uses a flower to symbolize sexuality and fertility. I've always loved that imagery and the power that seems to emanate from the painting. Another favorite of mine, My Birth, was Frida's attempt at illustrating her feelings on childbirth, motherhood, and her own reproductive failures. Her own miscarriage in Detroit was the subject of the graphic painting Henry Ford Hospital, which included symbols of her difficult pregnancy and miscarriage.
As I mentioned earlier, Frida's work around the themes of reproduction and sexuality are among my favorites. She is not the only artist to ever paint about these themes, but her work continues to speak to me in ways no other artist can. They're deeply personal, and obviously come from her own experiences. Yet, they're also universal, in ways a lot of her other personal works are not. You might not be able to relate to the image of her broken body, but childbirth, fertility, sexuality -- these are things that affect all of us in some way. But whether we succeed or fail in our attempts, the emotional, physical and psychological affects are certainly no less complicated. She owns this reality and her own experience, and in doing so, she pushes our buttons and makes us consider that there is beauty and tragedy in the balance of life and death.
This is all just a sliver of her life and work. I could go on about her accomplishments and other paintings for days, but I'll leave it to the biographers. What I really want to do is show why it was so easy for me to love a woman who lived with such pain (physically and emotionally), but who was still able to produce work that spoke truth to that pain and to live her life without apologies. Her status as a feminist icon should be honored for that alone.
For more about Frida's life, love, and art, you should check out:
Frida Kahlo Fans
The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo Quotes
- At Mon Mar 09, 12:02:00 PM Renee said...
Frida is one of my fav artists of all time. Her work is filled with passion, life and sorrow. I often wonder what her work would have been like had she not been in that accident. Would she have even dedicated her life to art? She had such a passion for life and was so politically active as well. This is often written out of her life stories. If I could go back in time Frida is one person I would love to meet.
- At Mon Mar 09, 01:07:00 PM Anonymous said...
beautiful. I *love* frida and how fearless she was. I am SO looking forward to the rest of this series!
- At Mon Mar 09, 04:45:00 PM T. R Xands said...
Excellent *here from twitter* I love Frida. Her art is everything to me--provocative, disturbing, frightening, beautiful, symbolic...the colors, the style, all of it. Her personal life just comes through in her art, it almost seems effortless. Like you can look through her paintings and just know her. She's been such an inspiration for me.
Good luck with your series, it's starting off good! I'll have to come back and see the rest!
- At Mon Mar 09, 09:55:00 PM mzbitca said...
This was a really excellent piece. I've never been much into art but I've seen and enjoyed some of Khalo's work. This was nice to learn a little more about her life
- At Mon Mar 09, 11:25:00 PM entrylevelliving said...
Wow...I am blown away by this piece. You have written with such passion, paying homage to her while sharing a personal reflection. I love this and will be sharing widely! I look forward to more in this series!
- At Mon Mar 09, 11:34:00 PM frau sally benz said...
Thanks so much everyone for all the great feedback!! I'm so glad everyone liked the first post. Hopefully I can do justice to the other women I've selected.
- At Tue Mar 10, 07:47:00 PM terese said...
really enjoyed reading this. like you i am not a big visual art person but i do think her work is beautiful. looking forward to the rest of the series!
- At Wed Aug 19, 05:18:00 PM lindsey said...
i really enjoy reading about frida, FSB...and it wasnt too long :)