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Who is Frida Kahlo? Part One

Updated: Jun 17, 2023

You may know the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo from her paintings, her legacy, or just her name. She was a Mexican painter with an interesting and complex life. Discover more about the lady behind the pictures to learn more about this inventive painter, feminist, and cultural icon. Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in Mexico City, Mexico, to German and Spanish Mexican parents. However, she frequently stated that her birthday was July 7, 1910. This was not to appear younger but to reflect the Mexican revolution, which began in 1910. Throughout her career, Kahlo was a political activist who expressed her opinions in a variety of methods.

Early life

Frida Kahlo suffered from terrible health as a child. She had polio at the age of six and was bedridden for nine months. Her right leg and foot became substantially thinner because of the condition than her left. After recovering from polio, she limped. She has spent the rest of her life wearing long skirts to cover that.

Frida's father urged her to participate in a variety of activities to aid her recovery. She participated in soccer, swimming, and even wrestled, which was unusual for a girl at the time. She has had a tight bond with her father her entire life.

Frida Kahlo attended the prestigious National Preparatory School in Mexico City in 1922. There are only thirty-five female students at that school, and she quickly became well-known for her outspokenness and boldness. She met the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera for the first time at this school. Rivera was working on a mural named The Creation on the school site at the time. Frida frequently watched it and told a friend that she would marry him someday.

Kahlo and a life-changing accident

The following year, Kahlo joined a group of students who held similar political and intellectual beliefs. She fell for the leader, Alejandro Gomez Arias. The fatal event occurred on a September afternoon while she was traveling on a bus with Gomez Arias.

Frida Kahlo was critically injured when her bus collided with a streetcar. Her hip was wounded by a steel handrail. Her spine and pelvis are fractured, and she is in a lot of agonies, both literally and psychologically.

She was severely injured and had to spend several weeks in the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City. She then came home to heal further. For three months, she had to wear a full-body cast. To pass the time and relieve the pain, she began painting and completed her first self-portrait the next year. "I paint myself since I am often alone and I am the subject I know best," Frida Kahlo famously said. Her parents encouraged her to paint and even made her a special easel so she could paint in bed. They also handed her brushes and paint boxes.

Kahlo and her first portrait

Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress, 1926
Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress, 1926

One of Frida Kahlo's early portraits is Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress. This portrait reflected the emotional strain evident in her other works. She used this picture as a symbol of love to reclaim her lover's attention. She began working on this picture in the late summer of 1926 when her relationship with Alejandro was deteriorating due to Alejandro's opinion that she was too liberal.

She wrote him letters in which she promised to be a better person to deserve him. "Within a few days, the image will be in your house. Forgive me for sending it without a frame. I beseech you to put it in a low spot where you can see it as though you were gazing at me," she wrote in a letter when she finished it in September 1926.

Frida is dressed as a princess in this self-portrait, wearing a wine-red velvet gown. She mailed it to Alejandro in the hopes that he will remember her. This painting worked: once Alejandro received it, they resumed their relationship. However, he went to Europe in March 1927 because his parents did not want him to be with Frida. She wrote a lot of letters after they split up, and in those letters, she refers to herself as "your 'Botticelli,'" referring to her Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress. "Alex, your 'Botticelli' has also become very sad, but I told her that until you come back, she should be the sound asleep one'; despite this, she remembers you always," she wrote. And a few months later, while waiting for him to return to Mexico, she wrote the letter concerning this portrait: "You cannot imagine how marvelous it is to wait for you, serenely as in the portrait."

Frida and Diego: Pain and Love

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera reconnected in 1928. He encouraged her after she requested him to review her work. The two quickly began a romantic relationship. Frida and Diego Rivera married the following year, over her mother's objections. Frida had to relocate frequently during their early married life due to Diego's work. They lived in San Francisco, California, in 1930. They then relocated to New York City for Rivera's exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. They eventually relocated to Detroit, where Diego Rivera worked for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's marriage was unusual. For all those years, they had maintained separate houses and studios. They had a turbulent relationship distinguished by several relationships on both sides. Diego had numerous encounters, one of which was with Kahlo's sister Cristina. But she has always wanted children, but owing to the bus tragedy, she is unable to have any.

When Frida had a second miscarriage in 1934, she was devastated. Rivera and Kahlo were separated several times, yet they always reconciled. They aided Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia in 1937. Exiled communist Leon Trotsky is a rival of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Kahlo and Rivera greeted the couple and allowed them to stay at her Blue House. When the pair remained at her residence, Kahlo had a brief affair with Leon Trotsky.

In Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair (1940), Kahlo is dressed in a man's suit and holds a pair of scissors, her hair falling over the chair in which she sits. This reflects the times she would trim Rivera's hair when he was having affairs.

Frida Kahlo's self-portrait with cut hair
Frida Kahlo's self-portrait with cut hair

Frida Kahlo created this self-portrait shortly after her divorce from Diego Rivera. Unlike her earlier self-portraits, in which she always wore feminine outfits, Frida wore a huge black suit that resembled one of Diego's. She also shaved her long hair, which piqued Diego's interest.

Frida was holding scissors in her right hand, indicating that she accomplished everything herself. She was holding her cut hair in her left hand as a symbol of her sacrifice.

Hair strands are everywhere in the background, and it appears that each one has its own life. She sat on a chair, surrounded by her hair, with an empty expression. The fact that the space around her is empty adds to her misery. The top of this image has the lyrics to a song written on it, which reads:

"See, if I liked you, it was for your hair, since you're bald, I don't love you anymore.".

Frida resolves to abandon her feminine persona following her divorce from Diego. She trimmed her hair short, ditched the Tehuana dress Diego adores, and began wearing a man's suit. Her earrings are the only thing she preserves as a feminine ornament. This self-portrait showed her ambition to be self-sufficient and not rely on men.

To be continued……

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