Frida Kálo is one among the few female painters to achieve international fame. Mexican, the revolutionary, Frida Kahlo, the surrealist, the lame…so many adjectives can be used to describe a woman who is free, unique, both in her work, and in her personal life. Indeed, her story is far from quiet. Biographies and movies have often brought her story to light. But how much do you really know about her story? Artsper shares 10 anecdotes of the life and times of this iconoclastic performer!
1. Frida Kallo is not mexican.
Magdalena Frida Carmen Kahlo Calderon, her real name was, was born July 6, 1907. She used to fake her birth date, setting it back at July 7, 1910, which was the year when the Mexican Revolution began.
She was born Mexico City. However, she isn’t of Mexican heritage! Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez her mother was from a Spanish generals family. Her veins also contain Indian blood. Her father, Carl Wilhelm Kahlo Kauffmann, was born in Germany. Contrary to Frida’s assertion, he was not Jewish. Her family were Lutherans and her family belonged the the middle class of Grand Duchy of Baden. Guillermo Kahlo became a photographer after she arrived in Mexico 1891.
2. She didn’t have a happy upbringing.
Frida was the daughter of a woman who lost her child. Depressed, her mom gave her to her nanny. She was a very cold person.
The atmosphere at home can be particularly sad. Except for tensions between her parents and her half-sisters, who were sent to the nunt, her father’s company was not thriving during the Mexican revolution.
Frida’s condition is even more fragile. She was born with spina-bifida which caused her spine to be deformed. At 6 years old she gets polio. Due to this serious infectious condition, she is now suffering from chronic pain. She also has a malformation in her right leg, which results in her right leg no longer growing. This disease isolates her from all other children. Nicknamed “Fria coja”, or “Frida the disabled”, she can’t go to school. Later, her first years of schooling were difficult. She went to a German school following her father’s instructions and was soon expelled because of disobedience. This is an example of a strong and reckless personality that she displayed from a young age. She then entered a vocational college for women teachers, and stayed for a while. After her parents discovered that one of the teachers had abused her sexually, she was expelled from the institution.
3. She was nearly a doctor.
Frida was not born to be a artist. Her father had a passion for fine art from an early age and it was passed to her. One of her father’s friends, an engraver gave her drawing lessons. She assists her father in his profession by retouching and developing photographs, and coloring them. However, art is something she enjoys more than anything.
She was one of only 35 girls who were accepted at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria when she turned 16. There were over 2,000 students. It was at the time the best school of its kind in Mexico. There, she developed a strong interest for natural sciences and wanted the opportunity to become a doctor.
4. The root of her success is a bus-crash.
On the 17th of September 1925, as she was driving home from school, her bus crashed into a tramway. This accident sealed her fate. Although she survived, she sustained severe injuries. The metal bar pierced her pelvic cavity and caused repeated miscarriages. She also has 11 fractures in her right leg. Her right leg is totally dislocated. Her shoulder is also dislocated. Her spine, femoral neck and spine are both broken. She was unable to move for several months and suffered excruciating pain. She will need to have 32 surgeries, 28 corsets and live with the pain for the rest of her life.
She returns home and is forced to sleep in her bed. At that moment, she wrote: “I’m not dead and I have reason to live.” This reason is painting. Her family encouraged her, despite her medical problems. They gave her a special easel with a canopy and a mirror for a ceiling. Art was her outlet for all her troubles and a catalyst for her healing. She begins an important series self-portraits. They will always be her favourite subject.
5. She is a Pioneer Figure of Feminism, and she is a Communist Party member.
Tina Modotti was the photographer who encouraged her to join Mexico’s Communist Party in 1928. She was just 21 years of age at the time, and was still recovering from her accident.
As a teenager, however, she showed a strong commitment to the defense of Mexican culture and justice. Indeed, the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria was proud of the indigenismo. This nationalist ideology was based on Mexico’s indigenous history to defend the country’s superiority over the West colonialist mindset. Frida Kalo and nine female friends formed a informal group called “Cachuchas” which is literally “baseball caps”. They were against the patriarchal Mexican society and its macho values and discussed Russian literature and politics. Many of them were major figures in the Mexican intellectual community.
In the Communist Party, she was committed to the emancipation as well as the struggle for class. She became a leader among feminist artists. She was unsubmissive and protestant, but she was also modern.
6. Diego Rivera and she are one of the most iconic couples in the History of Art…
Her decisive meeting with Diego Rivera, the muralist, marked 1928. He is now 20 years older, and is also a Communist Party member. By putting his art to work for the people and creating large frescoes for government commissions, he was already widely recognized. They were a couple who share common passions for painting and politics, as well as their admiration of each other.
Their marriage was consummate in 1929. She confided, “I had two serious injuries in my life.” One was caused a bus, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far her worst. Diego cheated several times on her… and she did so in return. She considered Diego’s extramarital relationship to her sister as a great betrayal in 1935. Their love remains strong despite their leaving the marital home after several months. Frida also causes havoc in her marriage when she has an affair Leon Trotsky (communist revolutionary). After being granted political asylum by Mexico in 1937 the Russian politician had been allowed to live in their home. After divorcing in 1938, they were finally married in 1940. They were then connected until their deaths.
The house where they lived their first married life is an indicator of their relationship. It consists of two buildings, one for Frida and one to Diego. It is a symbol for their couple: they are independent but irrevocably joined.
7. Frida Kahlo is not a Surrealist painter.
Andre Breton was a surrealist who visited Mexico City in 1938. He discovered Frida Kaslo’s art while there. Fascinated by her discovery, he invited them to Paris in 1939 to participate in a major exhibition in Mexico.
Both the city and the exhibit dissatisfied her. The event was described as a “smokehouse”. It was far too depictive and picturesque of her homeland. A few of her paintings weren’t preserved, and the painting was not correctly interpreted. She said, “It’s not fair. I’ve never painted my dreams. What I represented was my reality. For her, her paintings were, above all, autobiographical. She rejects these pretentious intellectuals and is confused. Concerning the Surrealists, she wrote to Nickolas Murphy: “I’d much rather be on the Toluca street selling tortillas than with those lousy Parisian artistes.”
However, her first trip to France marks her international recognition. Picasso gave Picasso ivory earrings that resembled her hands and Schiaparelli, fashion designer made Madame Rivera for her. She was also admired by the Parisian art community.
8. Her works are her metaphorical biography.
Her work is integral to her entire life. Frida Kashlo, who was left immobile after an accident, began her artistic journey. Her favorite subject was her own image. She does not show modesty nor concessions in her depiction of her moral and physical pain. The Broken Column (1944), which depicts her broken body from a series of surgeries, is the most well-known.
Nearly 70 self photographs tell her story. In her retrospective, she shows herself as a child and sometimes with her parents. She also portrays her partner and discusses their miscarriages.
In the representations she gives of herself, it is more about her Mexicanness. It reveals her deep respect for Mexico’s cultural heritage. She often wears China Poblano, a traditional Chinese dress which is colorful and embellished in floral embroidery. She also often wears flower-adorned buns or braids. Additionally, Mexican culture is often represented in her paintings, especially through the flora and fauna. She incorporates parrots as well as cacti into her compositions.
Several paintings also show her political commitment. Witness this through her Self-Portrait With Stalin (1954), and Marxism Will Return Health to The Sick (1954). Many evocations about death are visible in her self-portrait at the end of her life.
9. She lived in pain all her adult life and her last years were miserable.
Frida KAHLO is not only optimistic, but also suffers from constant pain from her stomach to her feet. Since 1950, her state of health has been in decline. She had 7 spinal operations. Her doctor told her not to leave her bed during her first monographic show, which was held in 1953. She asked her doctor to move her bed into the gallery, where she made an impressive entrance, as if on a throne.
Following one of her surgeries, she developed gangrene and had her right foot amputated. She was deeply depressed after that event. After her 47th birthday, she was diagnosed with pneumonia in 1954. She finally died. Shortly before her death she wrote: “I wish it would be a joyful departure and I hope that I never come back.” While suicide isn’t completely out of the question, waiting to die with open arms does not mean that you can’t consider the possibility of it.
According to her wishes she is being cremated. She didn’t wish to be buried flat because she had suffered so much.
10. Frida KAHLO was honored during her lifetime.
Living for a long period in the shadow of her husband in 1942, her election as a member to the Seminario de Cultura Mexicana in 1972 is evidence of her recognition by public institutions. The Seminario de Cultura Mexicana consists of prominent personalities from the cultural world. It was established by government to promote Mexican cultures through conferences, exhibitions and publications.
In 1943, the School of Fine Arts assigned her to teach painting in one of the classes. Mexican Federal Bank used her portrait to decorate the one side of its new 500 peso note in 2010. The other was decorated with Diego Rivera’s. This iconic piece of art is now a policy of the Chicano movement in the 1990s, which fights for civil rights for Mexican Americans.
Important things to remember
Frida Kallo is more than just an artist. As a symbol of Mexico, she is also a symbol for women. Her strong character and independence make her an emblem of the feminist, LGBT and transgender movements. Her inspiration has inspired many artists. However, her image has been re-exploited commercially. She has become a symbol of street culture and pop culture, being printed on posters, T-shirts, mugs, and other goods. Without doubt, she must be feeling a little bit sad at seeing her artwork and her image stolen. It is certain that she would feel reassured to find out that her artistic and political influence does not have diminished.
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