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Frida Kahlo

1907-1954

Frida Kahlo, was born on July 6th, 1907, in Coyoacàn, a part of Mexico City, one of four daughters to Matilde Calderón and Guillermo Kahlo.  However, Frida often claimed to have been born in 1910, the year of the Mexican Revolution.  Frida was of both European, and Mexican heritage.  Frida's entire life was plagued with suffering,  Stricken with  Polio at the age of six, one of her legs would remain smaller than the other, which of course attracted stares and teasing from other children.  The young Frida, already showing incredible strength of character, decided she was going to be a doctor, which at the time, was not a common profession for women.  But  it was at the age of fifteen that her life-altering tragic accident occurred.  In 1925, as she was returning home from school,  a tram crashed into her bus. She was found barely alive, covered in gold dust, and with a handrail stuck through her body; her spine and pelvis were broken, and so were her right leg, and foot.

It was while recovering from her extensive injuries in the hospital that Frida began to paint.  Although Frida's family sacrificed almost all they had in order to get her the best available care, but she never fully recovered, and was forced to used braces and custom made corsets in order to be able to just walk and stand.  Frida's parents even had a special easel custom made to accommodate her condition.  Frida gave up on becoming a doctor, and decided to continue painting.  Her accident had not only changed the course of her life, it would also prove to be a main source of inspiration for her work, which was mostly comprised of sometimes disturbing self-portraits,  images of death, and suffering.

In 1929, the 22 year-old Frida marries the 43 year old Diego Rivera, a famous painter of murals who would soon thereafter become her husband.  The two were drawn together on many levels, first off, was art, then Communism, and also their interest in traditional Mexican Indian culture.  The two were part of the Communist party for a short while, but they were ousted because of Diego's opposition to Joseph Stalin's crackdown on Trotsky's Left Opposition.  Although the couple did share intense passion, Frida had been left barren by her accident, so they never had children;  this was also a central theme in her work, and in some of her self-portraits, Frida would include her pet spider monkey as a surrogate child,  looking  like the infant Christ of Religious icons.  Many of her paintings were also quite bloody, and included internal organs shown on the outside, again, comparisons to images of Christ and the "Sacred Heart" can be made, but we would greatly be wrong to think her work was the product of a self-centered individual.

When she wasn't too occupied with her involvement in politics and intellectual discussion groups,  Frida also spent time teaching at La Esmeralda art school.  Although Rivera had been instrumental in her success, he considered her an equal, and although he was often unfaithful to Frida, he was never disloyal.  Rivera had mistresses, and Frida had lovers, including some women, and Marxist writer Leon Trotsky, whom the couple had gracefully welcome into their home, offering asylum during dangerous times.  Frida and Diego divorced in 1939, but they remarried in 1940, realizing their passion was stronger than their physical needs, and that their relationship could work if they tried to control their temperaments.

In addition to Diego's admiration, Frida also impressed artists and critics worldwide.  French surrealist André Breton played a major part in bringing her work to the attention of Americans.  Although she appreciated Breton's respect, she was quick to deny claims that she was part of the surrealist movement, simply stating, "I never painted my dreams. I painted my own reality."   Frida's reality was a reality of passion,  and of suffering.  In 1953, Frida's leg was amputated, shortly thereafter, on July 13, 1954, at the age of 47, she died in her sleep, apparently from an embolism.  There is a fair bit of speculation that she took her own life, escaping the pain of her existence.  Frida Kahlo was the first Latin-American woman to sell a painting for a million dollars, and her popularity seems to grow with each passing year; from endorsements by popular artists such as Madonna, to a critically acclaimed bio-pic starring acclaimed actors Salma Hayek, and Alfred Molina.

 

 

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