Frida Kahlo

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Frida Kahlo was a renowned Mexican artist. She was born on July 6, 1907 in Mexico City, Mexico. Her family consisted of her parents and three sisters. She contracted polio as a child and as a result had to spend nine months in bed. When she recovered enough to get out of bed, she was left with a limp because of the damage caused by the disease. Her father, however, encouraged her to play sports as much as possible in order to speed up her recovery, something which was quite unusual for a woman at that time. She enrolled at the National Preparatory School, being one of the few women to study there. Her friends knew her to be active, lively and politically motivated. She was very impressed with the work of the muralist Diego Rivera, who was working on a project at her university when she studied there. She reportedly asked him to come down and take a look at her work, and he was duly impressed.

In September 1925, she was travelling on a bus with her boyfriend Alejandro Gómez Arias, when the bus got into a horrifying crash with a streetcar. Frida was severely injured, and a steel handrail was shot through her body, which caused several fractures in her spine and pelvis. She was hospitalized for several weeks, and following her release, she began work on her first self-portrait as a gift for her boyfriend. She met with Diego Rivera again in 1928, and the two began a romantic relationship. They were married the following year, and moved about from city to city, depending on Rivera’s commissions. Frida exhibited some of her work as well, such as her painting “Frieda and Diego Rivera” which was exhibited at the Sixth Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Society of Women Artists in 1930.

Frida and Diego lived in adjoining but separate houses, with each maintaining their own studio. They both had extramarital affairs, with Diego having an affair with Frida’s younger sister Cristina. This caused Frida to go into severe depression, and she cut off most of her long black hair in mourning. She also miscarried thrice in a period of a few years, a fact which further deepened her sorrow. Frida reportedly had an affair with a Soviet communist leader Leon Trotsky, who came to seek asylum at their house. In 1938, Frida Kahlo achieved a large measure of success when her exhibition at a New York City art gallery was half sold out. She was asked to make a portrait of actress Dorothy Hale by their mutual friend Clare Boothe Luce. The painting was meant to be a source of comfort for the actress’s grieving mother; however the end result was a depiction of the actual suicide itself, something which shocked and grieved her mother. However, critics claim it to be one of her best works.

In 1939, Frida and Diego divorced, only to remarry a year later. However, they were both still unfaithful to each other. Frida had become more and more well-known over the years, and was commissioned by the Mexican government to do a series of paintings of important Mexican women. She could not keep her commitment due to her poor health. Ever since her accident, Frida had suffered chronic pain in some form or the other. She depicted this in her art, such as the painting “The Broken Column” done in 1944, which depicts her in a steel back brace with nails studded into her skin. She also developed gangrene in her right foot, and had to undergo extensive treatment for it. Part of her leg was eventually amputated, and a depressed Frida attempted suicide. She continued to be involved in political causes, and made one final appearance at a public rally in July 1950. She died the same month at the age of 47. Her work attracted much attention after her death and biographical books and movies have been made about her. Frida Kahlo is considered an iconic and courageous feminist painter, and remains one of Mexico’s greatest artists.

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