Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954) was a strong woman and a Mexican painter who is best known for her self-portraits. The artist struggled with depression and was hospitalized often throughout her life due to poor health. The pain was very intense and it often left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months. Kahlo shared her physical challenges through her art and once said, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."
Frida Kahlo began painting herself after she was severely injured in a bus accident in 1925. Kahlo was traveling on a bus when the vehicle collided with a streetcar. As a result of the collision, Kahlo was impaled by a steel handrail, which went into her hip and came out the other side. She suffered several serious injuries as a result, including fractures in her spine and pelvis. Although, she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she had relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. Recovering from her injuries isolated her from other people, and this isolation influenced her works, many of which are self-portraits of one sort or another. She began painting during her recovery and finished her first self-portrait the following year. She began with paints lent to her by her father and an easel specially made for her by order of her mother that allowed her to paint in bed.
Before the accident, in 1922, the famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera went to work on a project at her school. Kahlo often watched as Rivera created a mural in the school’s lecture hall. The two became acquainted, then, and their lives and artwork were to become intertwined. Kahlo reconnected with Rivera in 1928. He encouraged her artwork, and the two began a relationship. The couple married the following year. That marriage was riddled with misfortune as well as love.
In one painting, titled Henry Ford Hospital (1932), Kahlo painted herself on a hospital bed with several things: a fetus, a snail, a flower, a pelvis and others. These items are displayed floating around her image and connected to her by red strings resembling veins. Just like her earlier self-portraits, this painting was extremely personal. It tells the story of her second miscarriage in a very long line of them to come.
She had many major exhibitions, all over the world, selling many paintings in the process, and also received several commissions throughout her career. Kahlo went to live in Paris for a time where she exhibited some of her paintings and developed friendships such artists as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. She divorced Rivera later that year. Instead of letting the divorce break her down, she put her energy into painting one of her most famous works: The Two Fridas (1939). This painting shows two versions of the artist sitting next to each other. Both of their hearts are exposed. The first Frida is dressed in mostly all white and has a damaged heart with spots of blood on her clothing. The second Frida is wearing bold colored clothes. Her heart is intact. It is believed that these two figures represent the “unloved” and “loved” versions of Ms. Kahlo. A couple of years later, she received a commission from the Mexican government for five portraits of important Mexican women. Despite challenges in her personal life, she consistently continued to pour herself into her art. As a result, her paintings grew in popularity and she was included in an infinite number of group shows around this time.
She had many surgeries and wore special corsets to try to fix her back. She would continue to seek a variety of treatments for her chronic physical pain with little success. Her father passed away. Her love life was chaotic and troublesome. Her health issues became nearly all consuming in 1950. After being diagnosed with gangrene in her right foot, Kahlo spent nine months in the hospital and had several operations during this time. All the while, she continued to paint. All the while, art was her therapy.
In the last year of her life, Kahlo received her first solo exhibition in Mexico. She was bedridden at the time, but this did not stop her from attending the exhibition’s opening. Arriving by ambulance, Kahlo spent the evening talking and celebrating with those who came out for the show from the comfort of a four-poster bed set up in the gallery just for her. A few months later, part of her right leg was amputated to stop the spread of gangrene. She prevailed and inspired until her last breathe.
Years after her death, the feminist movement of the 1970s began to renew faded interest in her life and work. Even today, Frida is viewed by many as a female icon in the realm of creativity and self-expression. Her work has been celebrated, especially, in Mexico as an emblem of national and native tradition. There too, feminists admire her work for its representation of the female experience and form without compromise.