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Who was Frida Kahlo?

Artwork brings the world together.  Whether an artist paints a giant mural, or creates a small charcoal drawing, all artists deserve recognition and respect.  One of the greatest artists was a woman named Frida Kahlo; she was known for painting self-portraits which gained much acclaim in the art world.  Despite her bright and colorful works of art being so well known, Kahlo suffered through many tragedies in her life, which inspired her paintings.  In this article, I intend to write about who Frida Kahlo was and what she went through to inspire her art.

            Frida Kahlo does not have the typical beginning painter’s story.  She did not grow up with a paintbrush in her hand, nor did she ever show any interest in becoming an artist.  Instead, Kahlo was interested in science and was studying medicine at her National Preparatory school.  

            It was not until 1925 that Kahlo became interested in the arts.  This was mainly due to the bus accident she was in.  This horrific accident made Kahlo have to get more than 30 medical operations, in addition to being encased in a “full-body plaster cast.”  Kahlo was confined to her bed, and during this time, she began to paint and paint.  A mirror was installed above her bed so she could easily see her face and paint herself. 

            Kahlo’s paintings, although exquisite, often expressed themes of death and sadness; they connected to her bus accident and her miscarriage.  She continued to paint self-portraits about darker themes, until her marriage to the famed painter Diego Rivera, in 1929.  Rivera was not just any man off the street; he was a very established painter who reigned over Kahlo.  Rivera was also 20 years Kahlo’s senior, which significantly made their relationship unbalanced regarding power.  Kahlo’s entire art style changed when she married Rivera; she started painting herself as a typical Mexican wife who’d wear “the traditional Tehuana dress.”  Kahlo also began to incorporate Rivera himself in her paintings.  He was typically depicted as a towering figure who constantly had a paint pallet in his hand.  

            Rivera and Kahlo moved to the United States after their marriage, where they continued to paint and promote their art.  While Rivera was garnering more and more attention, Kahlo was quietly suffering through multiple miscarries.  These miscarriages resulted in Kahlo painting some of her most harrowing work yet: “Henry Ford Hospital (1932) Kahlo depicted herself hemorrhaging on a hospital bed amid a barren landscape, and in My Birth (1932) she painted a rather taboo scene of a shrouded woman giving birth.”  This was the start of the deterioration of her marriage with Rivera, in addition to multiple extramarital affairs.

            These affairs between Rivera and Kahlo resulted in them getting divorced in 1939.  Despite this terrible end to their marriage, during this time, Kahlo painted some of her most famous paintings.  One of these is The Two Fridas, which depicts Kahlo as twin figures whose hearts and hands are connected.  These two figures famously represent the two sides to Kahlo; the one on the right wearing a European-style dress, which Kahlo disliked, and the other wearing typical Tehuana attire, the side that Kahlo embraced.  

            Despite the heartbreak of her marriage, River and Kahlo eventually reunited in 1940.  She continued to paint throughout this time, typically, “showing herself with an impassive, steadfast gaze, for which she became famous.”   

            Unfortunately, Kahlo passed away in 1954 at the age of just 47; however, before she passed, she was able to attend her first solo exhibition in Mexico.  After her death, Kahlo’s paintings did not gain recognition until the late 1970s.  Her work was discovered by art historians and political activists, who labeled Kahlo as an icon for the Chicanos, the feminist movement, and the LGBTQ+ community.  These communities promoted Kahlo’s work, and they did their best for other people to interact with her artwork.

            Kahlo dedicated much of her adult life to painting what her heart desired.  She put her soul into these paintings for them to ideally inhibit what she was feeling at specific points in her life.  Kahlo went through many tragedies in her life, yet her art persevered.  Her paintings have become famous worldwide, and many people associate Kahlo with being the queen of self-portraits.  However, it is disheartening that Kahlo could not see the full impact and popularity of her paintings. At the same time, she lived, it is essential to remember that her paintings will live on for hundreds of years and that her name will always be remembered.

Edited by: Whitney

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