I was first introduced to the work of feminist artist Frida Kahlo (embarrassingly) through Salma Hayek’s brilliant biopic of the artist simply titled, Frida. Although I had seen Kahlo’s work here and there, learning her story made her art come alive for me.
That isn’t much of a surprise considering how much of Frida Kahlo’s own narrative is painfully depicted in her work.
One of four daughters born to a Hungarian father and a Spanish-Mexican mother in a Mexico City suburb, Kahlo’s life was defined by a bus accident she was in when she was 18 years old.
She spent a year in bed recovering from a fractured back, collarbone, ribs, alongside a shattered pelvis, shoulder and foot. These injuries would require operating on for the rest of her life.
But it was during this period of forced bed rest that Kahlo first took her brush to canvas, starting by painting images that were “intentionally naive”. Although 30 subsequent operations would follow, the pain and injuries provided ample inspiration for the art Kahlo created.
Kahlo married Diego Rivera, the equally famous Mexican artist. In typical “tortured artist” style, the two shared a tragic and passionate love story complete with divorce and remarriage. Rivera’s infidelities knew no boundaries, and he even famously slept with Frida’s sister. Nonetheless, the two shared a fervor for art, politics, and each other.
In 2005 while I was still living in London, I attended what was Kahlo’s “first major UK exhibition dedicated to her work to take place for over twenty years” at the Tate Modern. I wondered why it took this long for Frida Kahlo to be given the honor of having her own solo exhibition at a museum like the Tate. I mean 2005, really? I bet Diego did not have to wait nearly as long.
Regardless, I savored the experience of being surrounded by the story this woman’s work tells: Each and every painting offers another window, another insight into the life that is Kahlo’s art. As Ms. Magazine recently put it, “Frida forces you to look at her body, to look at its imperfections and see the pain.”
On a personal note, I love that Kahlo defied societal standards of beauty by never doing anything about her eyebrows or mustache. Everybody, namely men, always bring it up. Get over it guys! It just adds to her authenticity. And makes Frida even more fabulous.
Enrich your life by bringing the art of Frida Kahlo into it. And what better time to do so than on her birthday?