“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”
This woman really needs no introduction, she is as iconic and memorable as they come. She eclipses her famous husband and stands on her own as a force to be reckoned with – viva la Frida. Frida has stolen our hearts as a pop culture icon and her face can be found on everything from socks to pillows, lipsticks to perfumes (I personally own the socks and pillow) and her art is truly what has made her face a household image. Even if you (for some insane reason) do not know her name you would know her face in her paintings.
Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyocoan, Mexico City, Mexico (though she would later lie about the year she was born to align with the beginning of the Mexican Revolution). She was of poor health as a child and contracted polio at 6 and was bedridden for 9 months, this seclusion would be an integral force in shaping her perceptions of the world and herself. The disease caused her right leg and foot to become much smaller and thinner than her other leg and caused the young girl to walk with a limp and it is because of this physical malformation she chose to wear long skirts for her entire life. In 1922 Kahlo attended the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, which only had 35 female students at the time, where she stood out for her outspokenness and courage. This is where she first met her future husband, famous muralist Diego Rivera (you can see his work at the Detroit Institute of Arts. During this year Frida joined a political group at school and became romantically involved with the leader Alejandro Gomez Arias. She was with Alejandro when the bus they were traveling on collided with a street car one fateful September afternoon. The accident was gruesome and would haunt Frida for the rest of her life. She was impaled by a metal handrail through the hip, her spine and pelvis were fractured and forced her to stay in the hospital for several weeks. Once she was home she was stuck in a body cast for three months. It was during this time she started to paint, encouraged by her father, and she created her first self-portrait within the following year.
"I paint myself because I am often alone, and I am the subject I know best"
In 1928 Frida began a romantic relationship with Diego, they had reconnected when she asked him to evaluate her work, they were married the following year. During the early years of their marriage the couple moved around a lot to accommodate Diego’s work, they lived in San Francisco, New York City and Detroit while Diego worked for the Museum. Frida and Diego lived in Detroit for 11 months starting in spring 1932 and sadly this wasn’t a very happy time for Frida. She did set up her own art studio, but she initially did not feel well enough to be inspired, she was newly pregnant and feeling ill. She had concerns about her injuries from the bus accident all those years ago. She didn’t know if she should continue the pregnancy or seek an abortion and it distracted her until she spoke with her doctor and decided to try and keep the baby. Sadly, in July of 1932 she suffered a miscarriage so intensely she nearly bled to death. While recovering from her loss she infused her art with her life events, the lost pregnancy also had an influence on her husband’s work at the DIA which can be seen on the East Wall. It was during her time in Detroit Frida started to make a name for herself as one of the first reviews of her work was published in the Detroit News where she is quoted as saying
“Of course he [Rivera] does well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist”
Frida missed Mexico, and in 1933 they returned to live in San Angel. Frida and Diego had a tumultuous marriage full of heartbreak and loss. Frida suffered another miscarriage in 1934 and at some time in their marriage Diego had an affair with Frida’s younger sister. She was so heartbroken and filled with desperation she cut her long hair off to show her betrayal. She and Diego divorced in 1939 but remarried in 1940 and that was how their relationship remained, they separated, took separate lovers and got back together. Frida is known to have enjoyed both male and female affairs. Frida befriended Andre Breton (a prominent figure in the surrealist movement) and life as an artist became a reality for her, she was invited to exhibit in a New York gallery where she sold some of her work as well as gained commissions, she was then invited to Paris with Breton where she became friends with Marc Chagall, Piet, Mondrian and Pablo Picasso. When she divorced Diego she created her most famous painting – “The Two Fridas”.
In 1941 Frida received a commission from the Mexican government to create 5 portraits of important Mexican women but she unfortunately was unable to finish to paintings when she lost her father and suffered from her health. She continued to paint and use her life’s tragedies as inspiration. She had several surgeries to try and correct her spine and hip problems but to no avail. In 1950 her health was seriously deteriorating, and she was diagnosed with gangrene in her right foot, the foot affected by polio and she became bedridden once again. In 1953 she had to have part of her right leg amputated to stop the spread of gangrene. Frida became deeply depressed from her poor health and contemplated suicide. She pushed through and continued to be active until July 13, 1953 when she passed away at her childhood home, Blue House.
Frida was one to never compromise, she saw herself as this raw being and that is what she put on canvas. She exposed herself to the world and was never sorry for it. She used her life experiences to express her emotions and she gifted the world pieces of her broken soul. Frida was a complex person living a complex life, she took every bad thing that happened to her and she used it to her advantage. She was a political, sexual, artistic, outspoken individual that felt life with everything she had and that is something I deeply admire. There was only one Frida but because of her we can all boldly be ourselves and make our own way in this life. Viva la Frida.
Written by: Alicia Whitcome