The Life & Art of Frida Kahlo

The Life & Art of Frida Kahlo

It’s been 100 years since the death of Frida Kahlo and That’s it Magazine decided to investigate what was so inspirational about her short-lived time as an artist, a passionate yet stoic woman and an icon of feminism. What makes Frida Kahlo arguably the most famous female artist that ever lived? Aside from the fact that she was incredibly talented, she suffered a whole lot more in 47 years than most would experience in a lifetime.


Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyocoán, Mexico City, Mexico. At the age of six, Kahlo contracted polio and was confined to a bed for nine months. While she did recover from the disease, it had damaged her right leg and as a result, she limped when she walked. Her German father suggested she wrestle, play football and cycling; not the typical sport interests you would expect of a six-year old girl.

In her school days, she became known for her cheerful spirit and love for traditional and colourful clothes and jewellery. She surrounded herself with students who were politically and intellectually like-minded and we can see this having some influence on her work. In this painting, you can see the different people in Mexican society, from the business man holding his money to the housewife carrying her basket. At 18, her dreams of studying medicine, botany and the social sciences were dashed when she became involved in an accident which involved the bus Kahlo was on colliding with another vehicle. The Bus (1929), depicts the moments before the tragic collision which left Kahlo with a broken spinal column, broken collar bone, broken ribs and pelvis, a crushed foot, dislocated shoulder, a leg which was fractured in 11 different places and an impaled iron handrail which left her with a sliced abdomen and womb, leaving her unable to bear children. 


Despite being in such a critical condition, she managed to survive and her art flourished during the several weeks she lay bedridden in hospital. While she never fully recovered – she had chronic back pain – she continued to paint and depict her states of emotions through her self-portraits, holding a stoic expression throughout all her years of painting. The Broken Column (1944), depicts a shocking picture of Kahlo, both in its provocative and brutal nature. This painting exhibits the devastating lifelong effects of the accident as the art piece depicts the metal column replacing her spine, symbolising her broken body. One might suggest that she is nude because she feels her breasts are the only thing that make her feel like a woman after the accident.


Kahlo married Diego Rivera in 1929, a man who previously had been commissioned to paint a mural at her school. He admired and encouraged Kahlo’s artwork and so started their tumultuous relationship. Kahlo herself once said: “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”. It’s from this quote that we really get the sense that her art revolves around these two “accidents”. Despite their deep love for each other, their relationship was full of infidelity and Frida portrays this in her works. Memory, the Heart (1937), expresses Kahlo’s resentment and misery over the affair Rivera had with Kahlo’s younger sister. Kahlo, dressed in European clothes is depicted without arms, one foot in the sea and her giant heart bleeding into the sea; she was heartbroken and helpless. It was this affair that led to their divorce.


A year after their divorce, she was still devastated about leaving Rivera. Self- Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), depicts a stoic Kahlo with a monkey on her shoulder – not as a traditional Mexican symbol for lust but some suggest it’s a symbol for her surrogate children as she kept monkeys as pets – and a hummingbird dead and lifeless chained to a thorn necklace. It’s believed by many that this widely famous portrait depicts Kahlo’s emotional state after the divorce.


Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940), shows Kahlo seeking to reinvent herself and the renunciation of the marriage between her and Rivera, the man who loved her traditional dress and long, flowing hair. Above her figure hangs a relevant lyric from a Mexican folk song. When translated, it reads: “Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don't love you anymore.” The couple remarried the same year - but lived largely separate lives – and stayed together until Kahlo died in 1954.


Ishiuchi Miyako documented some of Kahlo’s wardrobe and belongings which were hidden in a sealed room until 2004. Notice details such as the different heights of the boot heels and how she encorporated her medical bodice into her dresses.

Fast Facts about Frida Kahlo

· She was bisexual.

· Her mother disapproved of the marriage between her and Rivera.

· Her behaviour wasn’t stereotypically woman-like during that time; she smoked like a train, drank like a fish straight from the tequila bottle and told dirty jokes all day long.


And... That's it!

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