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Frida Kahlo may very well be the most well known Mexican artist of all time, although her work was not widely recognized until decades after her death on July 13, 1954. Her compelling life and inspiring creativity gave way to fascinating paintings which blatantly exhibit her opinions, thoughts, fears and pain.
Frida, as she is lovingly referred to by Mexicans, was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, then a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. She would later claim that she was born in 1910, the year the Mexican Revolution began so that people would directly associate her with it. At age 6 Frida contracted polio which permanently affected her right leg and foot. It has been speculated that she also suffered from spina bifida.
In 1922 Frida was enrolled in the prestigious Preparatoria, one of Mexico’s top schools with a student body of about 2000. She was one out of only 35 girls. Frida hoped to become a doctor. Preparatoria was where she met her first boyfriend, Alejandro Gomez, the leader of a student political group that supported socialist-nationalist ideas. It is also where she learned of Diego Rivera, a world famous Mexican muralist, while he was painting a mural in the school’s auditorium. Frida would secretly watch him for hours. He would later become her husband, and the tumultuous love of her life.
On September 17, 1925, while still attending Preparatoria, Frida and her boyfriend Alejandro were in a terrible bus accident. Frida suffered a broken spinal column, collarbone and pelvis, broken ribs, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and
dislocated right foot and a dislocated shoulder. An iron handrail also pierced her abdomen and uterus, which later prevented her from carrying a pregnancy to term. Frida underwent approximately 35 surgeries and eventually regained her ability to walk but suffered greatly on and off for the rest of her life from severe chronic pain. She was often bedridden for months at a time. Frida recovered from the accident in a full body cast and much of her time painting from her bed or a wheelchair.
In 1928 she was personally introduced to Diego Rivera, and in 1929 they were married. They made quite a pair. Rivera was 42 years old, 6' 1" and 300 pounds and Frida was 22 years old, 5'3" and just 98 pounds. They divorced in 1939, and then remarried in 1940. Frida and Rivera were fervent supporters of each other’s art but their relationship was plagued with infidelity (on both of their parts) including an affair between Rivera and Frida’s younger sister Cristina. Frida said,” I suffered two grave accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar knocked me down. The other accident is Diego.”
Frida died exactly a week after her 47th birthday. A few days before her death she wrote in her diary, "I hope the exit is joyful, and I hope never to return. Frida” In his autobiography, Diego Rivera would write that the day Frida died was the most tragic day of his life, adding that, too late, he had realized that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her.
About a third of Frida’s 143 works are self-portraits, many of which portray the pain and loss in her life, including her miscarriages and abortions. She was brutally honest in her life (except for the birthday white lie) and in her paintings. There is so much more to Frida than can be explained in this short article; her political activism, her love for children, animals and dirty jokes, her journal entries, among other things. On your next vacation to Mexico, bring along one of the many books written about Frida and learn more about this fascinating Mexican woman.
About the Author
Kristin Busse is an American expat who has been living in Cancun, Mexico since 2001. A wife, mother, singer, salsa dancer and now writer, she has worked in many different industries but is currently enjoying exploring the Yucatan Peninsula and sharing her expertise and experience with readers around the world. Follow Kristin on Twitter.