Frida Kahlo was a revolutionary artist, who encountered many battles during her life. She is an empowering role model, breaking the barriers of the stereotypes of women during her period. As an artist, she illustrated the dark and fretful times she encountered in her life onto canvas. All her works are extremely dynamic, which illuminate juxtaposed images creating conflicting concepts.
Magdelena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderon was born on July 6th, 1907 in Coyocan, a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. She lived in her family home La Casa Azur (the blue house) with her parents and sisters. Kahlo once commented that she grew up in a world surrounded by friends. Her father was of German descent and her mother indigenous Spanish descent. Her mother was a devout Catholic. Her family heritage and beliefs would become an integral part of her works, being an apparent symbol in her self-portraits conveying her Mexican heritage.
1910 saw the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Kahlo was only 3 years old. However, later in life, she said that she was born in 1910 so that people would directly relate to the revolution. In her writings, she would recall experiences of the revolution, such as her mother hiding her and her sisters inside the house as gunfire echoed in the background. She also recalled her mother feeding the hungry revolutionaries. These images of traumatic times were cemented in her mind and influenced her greatly throughout her work with the portrayal of the movement and bringing through classic Mexican Heritage.
At the age of 6, she contracted Polio; she was left with one leg a lot thinner than the other. It has also been suggested that she may have suffered from Spina Bifida. She recovered but was left with a permanent limp. Nevertheless, she participated in sports such as boxing and soccer, all unusual for a girl at this time.
In 1922 she attended Preparatoria, one of Mexico’s finest schools. She was one of only 25 girls. Here she met and fell in love with Alejandro Gomez Arias. During this time, she witnessed much violence on the streets of Mexico and became more politically active. Rivera and Kahlo championed Mexicanidad, a post-Revolutionary movement that called for stripping the country of colonial influence and replacing it with the trappings of indigenous culture. Through this spirit Kahlo dressed, painted, and even gardened. On most days, she donned traditional Tehuana clothes, elaborately patterned skirt-and-blouse ensembles.
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On the 17th of September 1925, Kahlo was in an accident. She was on a bus when it hit a car. She became impaled on a steel handrail. She suffered life-threatening and life-altering injuries. It was during her recovery that she began to paint. The accident largely affected Kahlo physically and mentally, this resulted in her being unable to have children, which became an integral symbol within her works. Paintings were an essential outlet for her emotionally and spiritually. She had several miscarriages, which led to her being horribly depressed. She purged her emotions on her canvas. Representing fertility through flowers, and children in the form of a monkey as this was a world she desired but was unable to have. Her paintings are often violent-looking, bloody, and severe. But they simply represent the truth of what was happening to her.
Although she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she was plagued by relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. This pain was extreme and left her confined to hospitals for months. She underwent as many as thirty-five operations due to the accident, mainly on her back, her right leg, and her right foot. Many works were completed in the hospital and were symbolic of the pain and trauma she was feeling. The broken column is one of many works that was largely influenced by the pain and confinement she had experienced.
Kahlo was persistent in breaking gender stereotypes of women. This is represented in the artwork Cropped Hair and was Kahlo’s first self-portrait after her divorce from Diego Rivera. She depicted herself wearing an oversized men’s suit and crimson shirt instead of one of the traditional Mexican Tehuana dresses. She wasn’t able to wear tight clothing and traditional European attire, which made her feel like an outcast from the rest of society. It demonstrated she was asserting her sense of self as an artist and a person and stepping out of Rivera’s shadows. Kahlo chose to live independently from Rivera determined to make a living by portraying her divorce in art.