Frida Kahlo Forever: The Importance of Her Work & Her Life
Penciled and painted disjointed and dejected self-portraits; body and heart exposed; and, once, pictured sitting hand-in-hand with a doppelganger: are examples of Frida Kahlo's works. The Coyoacan-born artist moved in surrealism and magic realism - though she once stated, "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality." She created paintings that celebrated Mexican, Amerindian and indigenous tradition, while at the same time capturing her sorrow, her honesty and her hope. To understand her work is to understand her life.
Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, though she often told people that she was born on July 7, 1910, so that her birth coincide with the start of the Mexican revolution, thusly on the same date as the birth of modern Mexico. A principled woman with a rather tragic life, Kahlo contracted polio at the age of six, which is credited for her selection of long, colorful shorts that she's often pictured wearing later in life. Theorists have stated that she was actually born with a spinal bifida, which her affected spinal and leg development. Still, Kahlo was brilliant and unstoppable. She boxed and engaged in other sports; and in 1922 she enrolled in one of Mexico's premier schools, Prepartoria.
Three years later, Kahlo was on a bus ride, and was severely injured when the bus struck a trolley car. She broke her spinal column, her collarbone, her rib and her pelvis; also she suffered eleven fractures in her right leg. Her right foot was crushed and dislocated, her shoulder was also dislocated, and an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus. She wore a full-body cast for three months, and received 35 operations following the accident, which would leave her bedridden for months at a time. She also lost her ability to produce children.
Of the accident, Kahlo would eventually state, "There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst."
Mexican painter Diego Rivera was a man who Kahlo greatly admired before they engaged in an intimate relationship. They married in 1929, against Kahlo's mother's wishes. The troubled marriage was often intermitted, with several affairs on the behalf of both parties. Kahlo, who was bisexual, was involved with Isamu Noguchi, Leon Trotsky, Josephine Baker. And, Rivera betrayed Kahlo's trust by having an affair with Kahlo's younger sister, Christina. The couple divorced, and remarried one year later with similar troubles - often, they had separate living quarters.
July 13, 1954, Kahlo died days after writing a diary entry that stated, "I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida." Officially, Kahlo died of a pulmonary embolism, though many suspect that she died from a purposeful or accidental overdose. Her death came after the loss of her right leg due to gangrene, and a bout of bronchopneumonia that made her frail.
The years where Kahlo suffered from pain and addiction, crippling depression and acute loneliness found its use in her work. She would paint a world where her inner turmoil would live on the same page as a portrait. She would create more than 140 paintings, 55 of them self-portraits; committing raw and fierce acts of talent. She would do did this while living in Rivera's shadow, her artwork not taken seriously until after her death. In fact, Kahlo only had one solo gallery showing in the United States at the Julien Levy Gallery; though, the Louvre did purchase her painting, "The Frame," making it the first work by a twentieth-century Mexican artist to be purchased by a renowned museum. She also did commissioned work for US Ambassador to Italy and author of the hit play "The Women," Clare Booth Luce. She completed a painting called, "The Suicide of Dorothy Hale," depicting a woman who had leaped from a building.
Kahlo's artistic input made it so that Latina artists were seen as true contributors to the cannon; but more so, she normalized sadness and isolation. She once spoke about painting self-portraits because she was alone quite often and knew herself best, also she felt that she was strange.
"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. 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," Kahlo once stated.
Her constant assessment of the human condition and of the condition of her emotional and psychological state in her artwork is what makes her work eternal. Kahlo may have never wanted to return, but her work wakes her anytime it touches a new individual.
Kahlo has inspired novels, biographies, artwork, music, films, compositions and merchandise. She has had food and drink created in her name; whole communities mourn her on Dia de los Muertos; and her artwork is generally in rotation around the country and around the world, exhibitions pitched like tents. She was the first Latina to be honored with a U.S. postage stamp; and on the hundredth anniversary of her birth, the Palacio de Bellas Artes featured the largest number of Kahlo's works to ever be seen in one location.
La Casa Azul, Kahlo's family home and her home in the later parts of her life, is now a museum, housing artifacts, paintings by prominent Latino contemporary artists and several pre-Hispanic pieces.
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