The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo
By Madhavi Pothukuchi
5 July 2022
You may not know her name, but you may recognise her from the famous flower headdress, black hair, unibrow and colourful clothes. Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous and influential artists of the 20th century, known for her bright, colourful paintings on life, love, and suffering without any formal art education. On her 115th birth anniversary, let’s know more about her life and why her art is so important.
Born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón on 6 July 1907 in a small town in Mexico, Frida suffered from polio as a child that left her with a limp. She grew up helping her photographer father but wasn't interested in the art. She was more fascinated by science and aspired to become a doctor one day. However, at the age of 18, she was involved in a bus accident that left her bed-ridden.
Frida spent a lot of time recovering from her injuries, so she took up painting as a way to express her pain and boredom. She taught herself how to paint by studying some classics and made a lot of self-portraits in that iconic, straight-faced pose of herself. In fact, Frida is known for her self-portraits that mostly showed her state of mind. She made 55 self-portraits out of the 150 overall paintings.
Frida’s paintings were often labelled as surrealist works of art, which she always denied. Themes about women’s rights and issues, Mexican culture, and abstract themes like the main questions about life and the universe are prominent in her paintings.
In 1929, Frida married Diego Rivera, a famous Mexican artist known for his huge murals or paintings made on walls. They had a complicated relationship, got separated a few years later and remarried again. The two artists fed off each other for inspiration but had very different styles.
Through Diego, Frida met many other artists with whom she discussed art and politics. In the 1930s, Frida travelled to the US with Diego and lived with him by painting and putting up exhibitions. But she moved back to Mexico in 1934 and made some of her most prolific paintings ever done before. Her first exhibition was in New York and Paris in 1938-39 that got positive reviews and recognition from artists and critics.
Frida was very vocal about her political and social beliefs. She was a staunch feminist who spoke about women’s issues and was passionate about Mexican folk art, politics and history. Her paintings reflected her views, often talking about what it is like to be a woman in Mexico and the world.
While she achieved international fame, Frida’s health was never on her side. She was constantly in and out of hospitals, undergoing surgeries and treating ailments, ultimately resulting in her death on 13 July 1954. But she left behind a legacy that inspired young girls everywhere to believe in themselves and express their opinions without fear.