Frida Kahlo was a Mexican-born artist who was born in Coyoacan on July 6, 1907. It is a small village just outside of Mexico City. 18 years later she began to paint after a near fatal bus accident that left her unable for walking for three months. At 47 years old, her fragile health led to her untimely death. She was only 5’3″ tall, but she is still tall today in the art world and beyond.
Kahlo was a Mexikanische malerin and is well-known for her portraits and self-portraits. She also created works that were inspired by Mexico’s natural and cultural heritage. To explore issues of identity, postcolonialism and gender, class, and race in Mexican society, she used a folk-art style. Many of her paintings had strong autobiographical elements. Although her love life lends itself to dramaticization on stage, the relationship she had with her body was undoubtedly the most important on Frida’s art.
Kahlo’s painting Roots (1943) is perhaps the best example of this belief. Kahlo is seen in this self-portrait resting on a rough terrain of dirt and rock. Her head is propped up on a small, white pillow and her thick, dark hair falls around her. A wide gap between her torso and the ground allowed for thick, leafy vines to grow from it. They spread out across the ground carrying constant streams of Kahlo’s blood. With the gentle expression of a mother caring for her child, she’s feeding the Earth. Kahlo used her body to help people understand, confront and heal from their pain.
Her life was filled with physical and emotional pain. Her body was permanently damaged by the accident on the bus in her adolescence. She also suffered from polio during childhood. Her spine was broken and her ribs were fractured. She also suffered a broken pelvis. Many of her paintings show that she spent a lot of her life in a cast and supported braces. She had more than 30 operations and was left with many lifelong complications. Kahlo was not immune to death or pain.
Kahlo’s 1944 self-portrait The Broken Column shows her again in the middle of an uneven, almost barren landscape. She appears to be nude from her waist and strapped into a brace that supports her body. Her torso rises vertically in a great chasm. It is made up of a fractured column, which acts as her spine. Kahlo uses pain to make metaphorical and literal allusions in this painting, which was done after corrective spinal surgery. Kahlo’s naked body is covered with thin nails, and fat tears are falling from her large eyes. Her determined gaze displays both vulnerability and strength.
More than 55 of her 200 paintings, sketches, and drawings are self-portraits. Her works often combine the magical and psychological with real life, a genre called magical surrealism. Many of her paintings look dreamlike and hover between autobiography and fantasy. She was a proud Mexican woman who supported the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution. Her work often depicts monkeys, skeletons and skulls, blood, hearts, and blood. These are the Aztec myths of the Aztec deities Quetzalcoatl, Coatlicue and Xolotl. She often depicted postcolonial themes such as gender, race, and class in Mexican society.
Kahlo seems to be gaining more respect each year. Interestingly, Las Margaritas on Cheshire Bridge Road fills its walls in Kahlo murals by a dozen artists. Frida Kahlo: Appearances can be deceiving was a major Brooklyn Museum exhibition that featured her work and her belongings in conversation.
Kahlo’s highly personal and guttural self-portraiture was a precursor to the more radical self-portraiture that we see from contemporary artists of color. Artists have to deal with political circumstances. These politically charged self-portraitures reflect this. It was, for Kahlo at least, the creation of Mexico as a nation. It’s the shaping the 21st century United States for contemporary American artists.
Frida Kahlo’s story is that of a queer, brown, and disabled revolutionary. She stood firm in her identity, despite great hardships. She reminds us there is strength in vulnerability and spirit beyond our physical bodies.
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