Today is the 110th birthday of Mexican painter and
bisexual feminist icon, Frida Kahlo. Born on this day in 1907, Frida embodied the
concept of living unapologetically; she was disabled, she was a communist, and
yes she had a unibrow, and she took the world by storm.
Frida photographed by her lover Nickolas Murray in 1931 (x).
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born on July 6,
1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico City to a German father and a “mestiza” mother. Her
childhood was often trying and, in Frida’s own words, “very, very sad.” Her
parents fought constantly and her father’s photography business suffered
economically during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, which only worsened
the family’s relationships. Frida was forced to enter school at a late age due
to having contracted polio when she was only 6-years-old; the disease caused
her right leg to be shorter than her left and the isolation that came along
with her diagnosis led to Frida becoming an introvert. Despite
the late start, she eventually became one of the first girls ever accepted to
the prestigious National Preparatory School.
Always a rebellious personality, Frida poses for a family photo in a full three-piece suit in 1927 (x).
When Frida was 18-years old, she was in a tragic bus
accident that would change her life forever. While on her way home from school, the
wooden bus Frida was riding on collided with a metal streetcar. Many people
were killed and Frida was one of the passengers to suffer severe injuries; she
fractured her ribs, collarbone, both her legs, and a metal rail impaled her
through the pelvis. Her recovery process took three months – one in the hospital
and two at home – but the chronic pain and complications from her injuries
would follow her for the rest of her life. It was during these months of
bedrest when Frida found that painting was a constructive way to pass the time
and she soon developed a true passion.
During one of her periods of bedrest, Frida paints a family tree. The painting seen in this photo was ultimately unfinished at the time of her death (x).
In 1929, Frida married Diego Rivera, one of the most famous
painters in Mexico at the time. Frida was only 22 and Diego was a 42-year-old
womanizer. Despite the age difference and the infamous infidelities
their relationship would suffer throughout the years – many of which were
between Frida and women, and most notably, with the dancer Josephine Baker – Frida
& Diego are still remembered as one of the art world’s greatest romances. It
was as the famous Diego Rivera’s wife that Frida got her first tastes of celebrity
status. The Mexican newspapers covered their relationship insistently and the two often traveled to the United States when Diego was commissioned for
murals by American cultural icons such as John D. Rockefeller. Although her
career stood in the shadow of Diego’s at this time, it was during their
extended stays in America when Frida created some of her most
Photographed by Martin Munkácsi in 1933, Frida and Diego were an odd couple to everyone who knew them and their marriage was described as “between an elephant and a dove" by Frida’s own father (x).
Frida’s star began to rise out of Diego’s shadow when they
separated in the late 1930s and she became incredibly prolific in her work. Out
of this period came classics such as My
Nurse & I and What the Water Gave
Me and when she began attending high-profile art exhibits in America, her
Indigenous Mexican fashion caused a “sensation.” This period lasted until 1940,
when she and Diego reconciled and were officially remarried. During the late 1940s,
Frida’s health began to drastically decline and she found herself painting more
and more from her wheelchair or from her bed. In 1953, her leg was amputated
due to gangrene and the resulting depression caused Frida to attempt suicide.
The downward spiral continued and she passed away on July 13, 1954 at home in
her bed. Although the official cause of death was pulmonary embolism, there are
many who speculate that Frida had finally succeeded in committing suicide. Her
body was laid in state under a communist flag and her ashes are displayed at La
Casa Azul – her iconic blue home and favorite place.