Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico, to a Hungarian-Jewish father and Mexican mother. Kahlo is famous for her bold and shocking images, many of them self-portraits with bright colors and a flattened, two-dimensional style. Kahlo’s images are said to reflect her unsettled childhood and adult life.  She survived polio during her childhood, and, at age fifteen, enrolled in a premedical program in Mexico City.  She was forced to drop out of the program after being severely injured in a bus accident.  The accident resulted in over thirty surgeries, causing Kahlo to spend the rest of her life in chronic pain.

Kahlo married Mexican painter and muralist Deigo Rivera in 1929 at age 21.  Both were passionate about Mexican politics and intensely admiring of the other’s works.  Despite Rivera’s numerous extramarital affairs, Kahlo loved Rivera obsessively, saying Diego was “my child, my lover, my universe.”  Although their marriage has become famous in the Mexican and American art worlds, they eventually divored.

Althoguh she lived a life in chronic pain from her surgeries, Kahlo painted over one hundred works and remains one of the most influential Mexican painters of the twentieth century.  Her works are deeply personal and autobiographical, reflecting both her physical and emotional suffering and feminist opinions.  Kahlo’s works are often described as surrealist, although Rivera argued that Frida’s works were realist.  Of her own works, Kahlo wrote: “Since my subjects have always been my sensations, my states of mind and the profound reactions that life has been producing in me, I have frequently objectified all this in figures of myself, which were the most sincere and real thing that I could do in order to express what I felt inside and outside of myself.”

Kahlo’s paintings are indeed graphic and have an element of urgent expression.  Kahlo graphically depicted heartbreak after divorcing Rivera in “The Two Fridas,” literally painting herself with a broken heart, and also in “Autorretarto con Collre de Espinas y Colibri,” depicting herself as a Christain martyr wearing a necklace of thorns with a black cat behind her.  Numerous other paintings depict abortion, miscarriage, and sickness.  Kahlo’s self-portraits incorporate a particular element of nature: her paintings exhibit images of vines growing out of her own body, nature surrounding her in an eerie way, or an x-ray-like view into her internal organs.

Kahlo died at age 47 in 1954 due to surgical complications.  Her paintings were well recognized during her lifetime, but her reputation became greater in the 1980s when the feminist qualities of her work began to be recognized and researched.  In recent years, more books, films, and plays have allowed Kahlo to be even more widely recognized as one of the great feminist painters of the twentieth century.

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