Frida Kahlo: World-Changing Women
Updated: Mar 17
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican self-portrait artist who is still admired today as both an artist and feminist icon. She expressed her emotional and physical pain through her vibrant and graphic paintings.
The Early Years
Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico on July 6th, 1907. She grew up in the family’s home, later referred to as the Blue House or Casa Azul, with her mother, father, and three sisters–two older and one younger.
Kahlo contracted polio at around the age of six and was bedridden for nine months. She developed a limp due to the damage caused by the disease. To help with her recovery, her father encouraged her to swim, play soccer, and even wrestle — highly unusual activities for a girl at the time.
Frida attended school at Escuela Nacional Preparatoria with a focus on medicine. While at school, she became fascinated by the art of Diego Rivera, who was working on the fresco The Creation at the same school.
On September 17, 1925, Frida and her friend and lover Alejandro Gómez Arias were traveling on a bus when the vehicle collided with a streetcar. She was impaled by a steel handrail–it went into her hip and came out her other side. Suffering serious injuries as a result, she stayed at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City. After several weeks Frida returned to her parent’s home to recover.
Kahlo began painting while she continued to recuperate. Her first self-portrait, Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress, was finished the following year.
Kahlo became politically active in the communist movement in 1928. This provided a second encounter with Deigo Rivera. In 1929 they married. Rivera was soon banned from the communist party, causing Frida to leave as well.
Their marriage was interesting, to say the least. It was a volatile relationship–Rivera was involved in many extra-marital affairs throughout their marriage.
How Much Can One Woman Take?
In 1930 Frida became pregnant, however the pregnancy was terminated. At the end of this year the couple relocated to San Francisco due to Diego’s art commission. The couple moved to Detroit in 1932 due to another art commission. Unfortunately, Frida experienced the loss of her second baby in July of that year. Only two months later, her mother passed away while having surgery.
The couple moved to New York in 1933, where Diego painted a mural in Rockefeller Center. At the end of the year they returned to Mexico and settled in San Angel.
Frida endured the termination of her third pregnancy due to “infantilism of the ovaries” in 1934. That same year she also had surgery on her foot, having several toes removed. Diego also had an affair with Friday’s younger sister, Christina. What a huge burden of emotional and physical pain this woman suffered – I am grateful she had her art to help her through it all!
Frida separated from Rivera the next year, moving to her own apartment. She met Isamu Nugochi, an American sculptor, and had an affair. She also traveled back to New York with some of her friends.
In 1936 Kahlo returned to the home she shared with Diego. She had her third foot surgery and also became active in the Spanish Republican Solidarity Committee.
The first solo exhibition of Frida’s work was held in New York City in 1938–it was a great success. At the same time, she also began an affair with photographer Nickolas Muray. The following year there was an exhibit of her work in Paris – here she also met many of the Surrealist painters of the time. When she returned to Mexico she divorced Rivera, only to remarry him in 1940.
Frida’s father, who she was quite close to, passed away the next year, and in 1942 she began writing her diary. She was awarded professorship at La Esmerelda School of Art in 1943. Kahlo often had to hold her classes at her home due to poor health.
Many of Frida Kahlo’s works were self-portraits. These paintings were an expression of her inner emotional and physical pain. People found Frida fascinating because she was a woman who lived out loud–she enjoyed dressing colorfully, living freely and laughing often.
~ Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940)
~ The Two Fridas (1939)
~ Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940)
~ The Broken Column (1944)
~ The Wounded Deer (1946)
The Final Years
In 1944 Frida returned to New York for an operation on her spine. She rejoined the Mexican Communist Party in 1948, despite her declining health. The following year she went to New York, again to have a total of seven surgeries on her spine.
After nine months in the hospital she was finally discharged. At this point Frida was on pain-killers and confined to a wheelchair. She was also suffering from depression due to all she had endured.
A solo-exhibition of Frida’s art was held in Mexico in 1953. Sadly, she attended the opening lying in her bed. That same year part of her right leg was amputated below the knee due to gangrene. The following summer Frida contracted pneumonia–she chose to participate in a political demonstration against her doctor’s orders.
Frida Kahlo passed away on July 13th, 1954 in Coyoacán, Mexico. Reports stated she died of a pulmonary embolism, but some speculate she may have committed suicide.
Before her death, Frida’s paintings were exhibited in New York, Paris and Mexico. Today you can find her paintings in art museums all over the world. To learn more, check out the Frida Kahlo website here.
I recommend watching the movie Frida is a triumphant motion picture about an exceptional woman who lived an unforgettable life. Nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Salma Hayek for Best Actress.
She endured a massive amount of physical and emotional pain, but chose to turn all of this into self-expressive art.To this day Frida Kahlo remains an inspiration to women and artists.
Peace & love, Sandra