She developed a knack for painting when she was recovering from a gruesome accident. This knack will later go on to be an inspiration for many generations.
Today, as we women dream, achieve, fight, learn, and resist, it is important that to acknowledge the efforts, courage, and hard work of all the women who paved the way of liberty for us. They bore the brunt of orthodoxy and social taboos such that future generations could live more freely. Among the many women in history who chose to live their truth unapologetically, is a Mexican artist who went on to become a feminist icon for eternity.
The feisty and fearless Frida Kahlo told women through her life and her paintings that it is okay to who you are, it is okay to love yourself, and it is okay to dream and go after it, no matter what. This self-taught artist created paintings in the most trying of circumstances, yet those pieces that were a combination of traditional Mexican folk art and surrealism went on to become timeless pieces. She paved the way for art as a form of self-expression by global artists, specifically female artists, to be enjoyed with equal zeal and respect.
Frida was born on 6 July 1907 in Mexico to a photographer and his wife. She grew up during the time of the "Mexican Revolution," which meant she bore witness to many acts of violence in her childhood. She learned photography from her dad, which later proved useful in her career as an artist. Interestingly, Frida had no interest in painting despite working for a commercial paint maker until a fateful accident changed her life.
In 1925, she was returning from school with her then partner Alejandro Gómez Arias when she met with a severe bus accident that left her with multiple injuries, reports Biography. According to Britannica, she had to undergo 30 major surgeries owing to her critical condition. For someone who had to go through multiple surgeries and painful procedures, Frida refused to give in to the limitations caused by her condition. It was during this time of bed rest that Kahlo taught herself to paint. She remained focused and determined that her skills improved drastically in a few months, with no teacher to guide her.
In one of her early paintings, Self-Portrait Wearing a Velvet Dress (1926), Kahlo painted a regal waist-length portrait of herself against a dark background. Her trademark elements could be seen as early as her first painting, which includes the stoic gaze.
But this was just the beginning. Many of her masterpieces came after she met Diego Rivera, an artist who had a huge influence on her life and art. She went on to join the Mexican Communist Party before she married him in 1929. After her marriage, the style of her art altered, wherein her portraits revealed her natural penchant for Mexican traditions.
However, not being new to difficulties, Frida went through heartbreaking times once again when she traveled to the US with Rivera in the thirties and went through more than a few miscarriages. She allowed herself to cry for she was as passionate and intense as her paintings. Around the same time, she lost her beloved mother. This phase brought about a melancholy that became a permanent theme in many of her paintings. Some of her most haunting and beautiful paintings were created around this time. However, her remarkable spirit shined through her art and also her lifestyle choices. Frida was way ahead of her times and soon became a fashion icon and inspiration for women. She refused to live within the lines drawn around her by society and her health conditions. She channelized all her pain and gone into her incredible art.
In 1933, Kahlo and Rivera returned to Mexico, where she did her first solo exhibition and it was a roaring success. The Louvre acquired one of her works, The Frame, making her the first 20th-century Mexican artist to be included in the museum’s collection. However, her personal life was once again breaking her, but this time from within.
By the mid-1930s, Rivera and Kahlo's marriage started failing. Rivera was always encouraging and supportive, but he had many affairs. After her initial heartbreak, she began to explore her own sexuality in her own affairs. She refused to let any circumstances stop her from knowing herself and expressing her authentic self. This integrity and ability to enjoy her life unapologetically is also one of the reasons for her fame to reach cult status.
Their relationship hit rock bottom and the couple parted ways in 1939, leaving her more distraught than she had imagined. Yet, being who she was, the same year, Frida painted one of her most iconic pieces, Two Fridas. The portrayed shows two figurines of the feminist icon holding hands, one in a European avatar, the part of her that Rivera couldn't love, and the other, in traditional Mexican attire, the side her husband loved dearly.
"They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."
This painting is one of the many examples that reveal how she shined brighter and found new dimensions every time she went through trauma. Through her art, she expressed the misery and reality of her life. Kahlo and Rivera reconciled in 1940, and the couple moved into her childhood home, La Casa Azul (the Blue House), in Coyoacán. The artist, who had multiple medical issues throughout her life began to decline in health by the mid-forties.
This was, however, one of her most creatively satisfying periods, as she painted some of her finest self-portraits with varying hairstyles, clothing, and iconography during this time. The multiple medical procedures, including more surgeries and the physical agony of it all, made her turning to intoxication for relief. Towards the end of her life, she required assistance to walk, but this didn't stop the fierce artist in her. She painted Self-Portrait with Portrait of Dr. Farill (1951) seated in a wheelchair.
She passed away from pulmonary embolism in 1954. While she is most known for her inimitable style, her unconventional life and unapologetic zeal for life and herself stands the test of time, inspiring women and artists across the globe to honor their authentic self and live life to the fullest. Those who knew her personally and those who unraveled her mystery through her art saw in her kindness, vulnerability, fearlessness, moments of self-doubt, a wild fervor for the unknown, an impeccable fashion sense, and a thirst for life that will forever remain synonymous with her name.
"I am not sick, I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.” - Frida Kahlo