Women's History Wednesday: Spotlight- Frida Kahlo
Artist Frida Kahlo was and is considered one of Mexico's greatest artists who began painting mostly self-portraits after she was severely injured in a bus accident. Kahlo later became politically active and married fellow communist artist Diego Rivera in 1929. She exhibited her paintings in Paris and Mexico before her death in 1954.
Kahlo painted mostly self-portraits. She was inspired by Mexican popular culture, native folk art, and early Mexican mass media. Her style of art explored questions of identity, post-colonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Her paintings often had strong autobiographical elements and mixed realism with fantasy. In addition to belonging to the post-revolutionary Mexicanidad movement, which sought to define a Mexican identity, Kahlo has been described as a surrealist or magical realist. Her works has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and indigenous traditions, and by feminists for what is seen as its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
Born to a German father and a mestiza mother, Kahlo spent most of her childhood and adult life at her family home, La Casa Azul, in Coyoacán. She was left disabled by polio as a child, and at the age of eighteen was seriously injured in a traffic accident, which caused her pain and medical problems for the rest of her life. Prior to the accident, she had been a promising student headed for medical school, but in the aftermath had to abandon higher education. Although art had been her hobby throughout her childhood, Kahlo began to entertain the idea of becoming an artist during her long recovery. She was also interested in politics and in 1927 joined the Mexican Communist Party. Through the Party, she met the celebrated muralist Diego Rivera. They were married in 1928, and remained a couple until Kahlo's death. The relationship was volatile due to both having extramarital affairs; they divorced in 1939, but remarried the following year. Kahlo spent the late 1920s and early 1930s traveling in Mexico and the United States with Rivera who was working on commissions.
Although always overshadowed by Rivera, her paintings raised the interest of Surrealist artist André Breton, who arranged for her to have her first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1938. The exhibition was a success and was followed by another in Paris in 1939. While the French exhibition was less successful, the Louvre purchased a painting from Kahlo, making her the first Mexican artist to be featured in their collection. Throughout the 1940s, Kahlo continued to participate in exhibitions in Mexico and the United States. She also began to teach at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado "La Esmeralda", and became a founding member of the Seminario de Cultura Mexicana.
Kahlo's always fragile health began to increasingly decline in the same decade. She had her first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1953, shortly before her death the following year at the age of 47.Kahlo was mainly known as Rivera's wife until the late 1970s, when her work was rediscovered by art historians and political activists.
Today, she has become not only a recognized figure in art history, but also regarded as an icon for Mexican and American History, woman right's, music, feminists, and the LGBTQ community.
( Image Gallery Below)
'Frieda and Diego Rivera' (1931)
Kahlo showed this painting at the Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists, the city where she was living with Rivera at the time. In the work, painted two years after the couple married, Kahlo lightly holds Rivera’s hand as he grasps a palette and paintbrushes with the other — a stiffly formal pose hinting at the couple’s future tumultuous relationship. The work now lives at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
'Henry Ford Hospital' (1932)
In 1932, Kahlo incorporated graphic and surrealistic elements in her work. In this painting, a naked Kahlo appears on a hospital bed with several items — a fetus, a snail, a flower, a pelvis and others — floating around her and connected to her by red, veinlike strings. As with her earlier self-portraits, the work was deeply personal, telling the story of her second miscarriage.
'The Suicide of Dorothy Hale' (1939)
Kahlo was asked to paint a portrait of Luce and Kahlo's mutual friend, actress Dorothy Hale, who had committed suicide earlier that year by jumping from a high-rise building. The painting was intended as a gift for Hale's grieving mother. Rather than a traditional portrait, however, Kahlo painted the story of Hale's tragic leap. While the work has been heralded by critics, its patron was horrified at the finished painting.
'The Two Fridas' (1939)
One Kahlo’s most famous works, the paintings shows two versions of the artist sitting side by side, with both of their hearts exposed. One Frida is dressed nearly all in white and has a damaged heart and spots of blood on her clothing. The other wears bold-colored clothing and has an intact heart. These figures are believed to represent “unloved” and “loved” versions of Kahlo.
'The Broken Column' (1944)
Kahlo shared her physical challenges through her art again with this painting, which depicted a nearly nude Frida split down the middle, revealing her spine as a shattered decorative column. She also wears a surgical brace and her skin is studded with tacks or nails. Around this time, Kahlo had several surgeries and wore special corsets to try to fix her back. She would continue to seek a variety of treatments for her chronic physical pain with little success.