Today marks the birth of Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist celebrated for her dedication to indigenous tradition and female expression. The painter, whose two best accessories were her unruly brows (not to mention a neck-adorning monkey), would turn 105 if she were magically still alive today.
Frida Kahlo, "Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" (1940)
Kahlo was born in Mexico City on July 6th, 1907, though her strong connection to modern Mexico led her to often cite July 7, 1910 as her birthday -- a date marking the Mexican revolution. She grew up with her Eastern European father, Amerindian and Spanish Catholic mother, and three sisters, who all lived together in a house in Coyaocan called La Casa Azul (The Blue House). As a young woman, Kahlo experienced a slue of health problems, contracting polio at the age of six and later suffering serious injuries as a teenager from a bus accident. The relapses of pain that she endured later in life forced her to undergo a series of operations that prevented her from having children.
But the accident would ultimately serve as the starting point for Kahlo's prolific career, and the times she spent in recovery would mark the the beginning of her powerful series of self-portraits. "I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone," Kahlo famously stated, "because I am the person I know best." When her days of bed rest ended, Kahlo continued to create art, developing a style that was marked by a use of vibrant colors and primitive symbolism. She incorporated both Christian and Jewish themes as well as objects from Mexican mythology, rendering Surrealist imaginations in a way that Andre Breton once described as "a ribbon around a bomb."
Portrait of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Kahlo's work was also heavily influenced by her strained marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera. Kahlo first approached Rivera as a young artist seeking consultation from a more established painter, but they soon developed an intimate relationship and married in 1929. Their life together was full of extramarital affairs and bouts of jealousy. Among Kahlo's alleged bedfellows are Josephine Baker, Isamu Noguchi and Leon Trotsky, creating quite the roster of famous liaisons. But she used her tumultuous personal life as inspiration for her depictions of feminine cruelty and suffering, exposing the taboo realities of miscarriage and adultery in paintings of herself. Amidst her more progressive artwork though, she adopted the Mexicanidad attitude of Rivera and began favoring all things "authentically" Mexican, including traditional clothing and standards for the female appearance.
Frida Kahlo, "What The Water Gave Me" (1922)
Later in life, Kahlo's medical problems became more serious, leading to the amputation of her left leg and eventually her death at 47. In the few decades following her death, Kahlo's name went largely unrecognized as an artist besides being known as Rivera's wife, and it was not until the 1980s that her unique style gained attention. Scholars and art critics alike began praising Kahlo's indigenous flair and dedication to the female experience after author Hayden Herrera published a bestselling biography of the artist in 1983. Since then, the artist has been celebrated through everything from film and music, to postage stamps and Google logos.
In honor of the talented female artist, check out some images from the previous exhibit "Frida Kahlo: Her Photos" which was on view at Artisphere in Arlington, Virginia in March. Happy Birthday, Frida!
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