The world of contemporary art is often associated with one painter in particular, who has not only revolutionized modern painting but has also become an imperative part of global culture. She was a communist, a courageous supporter of her country, a fighter for women’s rights, and a badass feminist.
“I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.” – Frida Kahlo
Frida made her entrance into the world in 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico, born to Matilde Calderón y González, who had an indigenous heritage, and Guillermo Kahlo, a German immigrant, and photographer who introduced Frida to photography and strongly encouraged her to pursue painting more than anyone else in the family.
At the age of six, she got sick with polio, a horrifying disease that left her with untreatable side effects. That, however, didn’t stop her from thriving socially and academically. During her school years, Frida became inclined towards indigenismo, a Latin American ideology that praised the country’s indigenous culture and heritage. Soon after she became part of a rebellious group of students, fighting against society’s conservative character, marking the start of her political activity.
“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”― Frida Kahlo
Frida’s life is followed by another great tragedy that changes her life forever. In 1925, Kahlo and her then-boyfriend Alejandro got into a bus accident, leaving Frida with horrendous injuries: a handrail manages to puncture her uterus and break her spine in a couple of places. The accident caused Frida to suffer from excruciating pain for the rest of her life. However, when asked how she lived with the constant pain she calmly responded, “We can endure much more than we think we can.”
Kahlo’s zest for life helped her get on her feet in no time. Until 1927 Frida re-entered the social circles and not long after became a member of the Mexican Communist Party.
“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the train the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” – Frida Kahlo
In 1928 one of the members of the communist party introduced Frida to Diego Riviera, a highly admired muralist. Not long after, Frida and Riviera started dating and eventually, culminated their relationship in marriage. Although her mother strongly disagreed with the marriage, mostly because of their 20-years age gap, her father quickly became keen on Diego, especially because Diego was financially stable. Guillermo felt at peace that his daughter was going to be taken care of and receive any type of medical treatment necessary without giving expenses much thought.
Although their love for each other was true and deep, their marriage was constantly on the rocks. Diego’s affairs left Frida with a broken heart way too many times than one can count. Her husband, having been married twice before, was never capable of staying loyal, causing Frida unimaginable emotional suffering. At some point, Frida realized he would never change, thus, started freely exploring her sexuality and, subsequently, came out as a bisexual.
“I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.” – Frida Kahlo
The authenticity of her paintings is a direct outcome of her private life. Her biggest masterpieces are her incredibly detailed self-portraits depicting her personal experiences, many of which included incidents considered highly taboo and almost inappropriate to mention: women’s sexuality, feminine beauty ideals, naked bodies, miscarriage, graphic representation of her injuries. Her paintings are passionate and agonizing at the same time, representing life in its rawest and most real form.
In addition, as a result of her worship of “Mexicanidad,” Mexican culture and identity became prominent themes of her art as well. She was often seen wearing traditional Mexican clothing, such as the Tehuana dress that was known to be worn by the women of the matriarchal tribe Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
“I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.” – Frida Kahlo
Frida spent her last years in excruciating pain, undergoing a couple of spine surgeries and a leg amputation. Consequently, she developed a serious addiction to painkillers. Bronchopneumonia confined her to the bed once more, worsening her already severe health condition. Frida passed away the 13th of July 1954 in her family home, La Casa de Azul as a result of pulmonary embolism.
Her biographer, Hayden Herrera, claims that the last thing she drew was a black angel, alluding to the fact that she had been expecting her death and was ready to die. She even wrote next to the painting, “I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.”
Frida may be known around the world as one of the most prominent radical artists, an advocate for social justice and freedom, a force to be reckoned with. These titles, however, are never achieved easily. Her life was in constant turmoil. Pain, illness, and heartbreak prevailed in most of her years. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop her from taking the shiniest spotlight on the world’s stage and making an unforgettable impression.