Why we love Frida Kahlo?
She has such a recognisable face that seems to pop up so much– all through Mexican restaurants, painted on the sides of buildings, in tattoos and on home décor.
But who is Frida, and why is she so popular?
I first learned about Frida Kahlo at school when I was studying textile design. The main thing I remember about her was that she was this amazing feminist artist who endured so much but against all odds lived a passionate life.
For those who are not completely familiar with her, here’s a quick overview of Frida Kahlo’s life:
- She grew up in Coyocan, Mexico City, Mexico.
- She contracted polio at age six and was bedridden for nine months. This caused her right leg to become shorter, thinner, and weaker than the other and consequently hid her leg under magnificent Mexican skirts.
- In 1922, she attended the elite National Preparatory School with the aim of becoming a doctor. She was one of only 35 girls out of 2,000 students.
- She was academic and a voracious reader and became “deeply immersed and seriously committed to Mexican culture, political activism and issues of social justice”.
- She, and nine of her schoolmates formed a group which was rebellious and against everything conservative. They pulled pranks, staged plays, and debated philosophy.
- At age 18, she was involved in a streetcar/bus crash and was impaled through the hip by a steel handrail. Her spine and pelvis were fractured.
- She was in hospital for several weeks and had to wear a full body cast for three months. This accident caused a lot of physical and emotional trauma for Frida as we can imagine.
- Over the following years, she underwent 32 surgeries, dealt with extreme fatigue and chronic pain, and had multiple miscarriages.
- Always involved in politics, in 1927, she joined the Mexican Communist Party. There she met famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who was 20 years older than her. They fell in a deep, passionate love and married in 1928.
- She went with Rivera to America in 1931 and visited New York City, San Francisco, and Detroit. She didn’t like many aspects of American culture and found Americans “boring”.
- Her and Rivera had a turbulent relationship in which he had many affairs, including one with Kahlo’s younger sister. This, obviously hurt her deeply.
- Frida also started to have affairs with both men and women, including movie stars Dolores del Rio, Paulette Goddard, Maria Felix and Leon Trotsky.
- Her and Rivera divorced in 1939 but re married a year later.
- Frida had three miscarriages and even though she wanted to be a mother and have a child with her lover Diego Rivera, she couldn’t. This did not stop her either; the anguish that she went through was shown in her art. She would paint the insides of flowers and fruits and used to say: “I paint flowers, so they will not die.”
- Between 1940 and 1954, due to her spinal problems, she had to wear supportive corsets – many which she painted on.
- At age 43, in 1950, her health had been deteriorating further. She was bedridden in hospital for 9 months but continued to work and paint. Increasingly she was confined to her home, La Casa Azul (the Blue House).
When I went to Mexico, my very first stop was La Casa Azul – I needed to see her home in person.
- In her last days, Kahlo was mostly bedridden, though she managed to participate with Rivera in a demonstration against the CIA invasion of Guatemala.
- In 1954, Kahlo died, officially by a pulmonary embolism, but many believe it was by suicide like so many tortured artists.
- The last thing she wrote was, “I joyfully await the exit – and I hope never to return – Frida” (“Espero Alegre la Salida – y Espero no Volver jamás”).
Fashion was as much a part of Kahlo’s paintings as her daily life. She spent hours in front of the mirror getting dressed and preferred to wear beautiful shawls around her shoulders, colourful ribbons threaded through her braids and flowers pinned to her hair, focusing attention on her shoulders and face.
Throughout the 1930s and '40s, Kahlo's style became synonymous with Mexican culture and her image made waves in the mainstream fashion world.
Artists and magazine editors have reproduced her bold style countless times (some featuring linen skirts, thick eyebrows, and hair adorned in flowers), she has also influenced designers like Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana, and Carolina Herrera. Her corsets inspired Madonna’s famed “cone” bustier, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for her 1990 Blond Ambition tour.
To me, Frida is a symbol of strength in the face of adversity. A symbol that disability doesn’t need to stop us, it can push us, make us think outside the box. It can influence us and make us better people/artists/creators for it.
She was confident, charismatic, and beautiful in a way that was unique to her.
She was wildly interesting and I can only imagine her as a queen for all who refuse to maintain the status quo.
“It is not worthwhile to leave this world without having had a little fun in life.”
Frida Kahlo was, is, and will always be an inspiration to a lot of people giving them hope and courage to be the best always.