HERstory: Frida Kahlo

1939_photo_nickolas_murayFrida Kahlo was a storyteller who shared her personal stories of love, pain, pride and self-discovery using paintbrushes and a mirror. To this day, she is considered not only of one Mexico’s greatest artists but an icon for Mexican culture and feminine beauty, women’s rights and equality.

She was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón on July 6, 1907, in Coyocoán, Mexico City, Mexico. Kahlo was born and raised in her family’s home–later referred to as the Blue House or Casa Azul, which would be her workspace and home in her later years before her passing. Throughout her life, she was constricted by physical disabilities. Around the age of 6, she contracted polio, which caused her to be bedridden for nine months. She did recover from her illness but had a slight limp because the disease damaged her right leg and foot. However, it seemed as if her physical limitations only pushed her strength and talents further. She was encouraged by her father to be active and play sports, acts that were deemed impossible for her to do.

At the age of eighteen, she was involved in a trolley accident that would have her injured for the rest of her life. Doctors were not sure she would live, much less ever walk again but she did, despite the odds. Once again, she chose an activity that strengthened her recovery: painting. One year after her accident, she completed her first of many self-portraits, which would gain worldwide recognition for their honest portrayals of her life.

Her work was often described as “surreal” because of its strange, dreamlike images. While her portraits and paintings weren’t necessarily realistic, they did display more than what she could say in words.

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration,” Kahlo said.

Her faint mustache striking monobrow and colorful wardrobe have made her a symbol of the traditional Mexican woman in that she never transformed her natural appearance. Quite the opposite, she would flaunt her features and dressed in a way that paid tribute to her culture.

She was famously married to Diego Rivera, another revolutionary Mexican artist. Despite their rocky relationship, Rivera greatly admired Kahlo for her original artistic take and her expressive attitude.  “Frida is the only example in the history of art of an artist who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings,” Rivera said. “The only woman who has expressed in her work an art of the feelings, functions, and creative power of woman.”

Her career as a professional artist allowed her to live in the United States and travel to Europe to showcase her unique works at high-end galleries. Her artwork and, most notably, the way she carried herself inspired her audiences. Frida considered herself to be an independent woman, free from society labels. As a result, she was seen as a rebel, a title she gladly embraced along with her other flaws.

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do,” Frida said. “I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

Even after her passing on July 13, 1954, she left behind a legacy, one that inspires others to persevere through life’s obstacles, accept flaws as well as their beauty and freely express their innermost emotions and thoughts.

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