Frida Kahlo

Warrior Women

August, 2015

Frida Kahlo


Frida Kahlo was one of my favourites – favourite painter and favourite person. Not that I knew her or even met her, but everything I’ve read about her, every photo I’ve seen and every single one of her paintings makes me think she was a strong, fascinating woman. A woman you’d like to spend time with and get lost in hours-long conversations about life and death and sadness, hope and love.

Frida Kahlo was a true free spirit, boxed in by life and circumstance. Her art became a conduit through which she was able to communicate her physical and emotional pain.

She was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón on July 6, 1907, in Mexico. Her father was a German immigrant, a photographer, whose second wife was Frida’s mother, Matilde.

Frida’s life was a train-wreck of illness, accidents, broken hearts and betrayal, beginning with a bout with polio at age six. She was bedridden for nine months and had permanent damage to her right leg and foot. She limped for the rest of her life.

I think about how awful that must have been, to lay in bed for nine months when you’re six years old. No TV. No video games. No radio. Did she have picture books to look at? Were her sisters kind to her? Did her Mama cook special dishes for her? Did her Papa bring treats and surprises at the end of his work day? I hope the time passed quickly.

In 1925, when Frida was 18-yrs old, she was severely injured in a bus accident. This time she spent a year in the hospital. It was during this period that she began to paint. Her parents provided everything she needed, including a mirror with which she would paint self-portraits. In her lifetime Frida painted fifty-five self-portraits. Why? In her words: Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.

In 1928 Frida met her life-long love and future husband, Diego Rivera. He was twenty years her senior and already had an established career as an artist. She was twenty-two and had just became a member of the Mexican Communist Party. In 1929 they married. The next year they traveled to San Francisco, New York City and Detroit. Frida wanted to go home, to Mexico. She really didn’t like America. She was lonely and had little to occupy her time. Diego was busy with his shows and his work at the Detroit Institute of arts.

Between 1930 and 1934 Frida lost three pregnancies, either through miscarriage or therapeutic abortion. The bus accident had damaged her pelvic area so thoroughly that she was unable to carry a fetus for very long.

Both Frida and Diego had many affairs during their marriage, Frida with women as well as men. They seemed content with this arrangement until Diego had an affair with her sister, Cristina. Frida packed her bags and left. She took an apartment in Mexico City and stayed there for several months. By the end of 1935 Frida and Diego had reconciled. However, they lived in two separate residences that were connected by a walk-way on the second floor. Perfect.

In 1939 Diego filed for divorce. It was finalized on November 6. During this post-divorce period, Frida showed her paintings at several exhibitions and continued to suffer from various physical ailments.

On Diego’s 54th birthday, December 8, 1940, he and Frida remarried in San Francisco. He remained there while she went back to Mexico.

In 1944, and for the next ten years, Frida underwent a series of surgeries on her back and her foot, but her health continued to deteriorate.

In 1950 Frida was hospitalized for nine months and endured seven surgeries on her back during that time.

In August 1953, Frida’s right leg was amputated below the knee.

In April of 1954, Frida entered the hospital yet again – and for the last time. She died on July 13 in her childhood home.

This article about Frida Kahlo seems to be merely a compilation of her illnesses and hospital stays. It is true that the majority of her life was spent fighting illness or enduring the consequences of that horrible bus accident. However, because of her incredible strength of character and determination she lived life on her terms.

Some of her paintings are so raw, so personal, I am in awe of her trust in people; her trust that the emotions evoked by her work will be kept sacred. If you look at her painting entitled Henry Ford Hospital you will see, clear as day, exactly how she felt after losing her third baby. This is a very sad painting. What remains in my heart is how lonely and isolated she is. Naked, no blankets and all alone. Heartbreaking. Here is the link: ow horrible

The Broken Column is another of her paintings that has lodged itself in my heart. It depicts the physical pain she had lived with since the bus accident, daily pain, 24-hour pain, seven days a week pain. It amazes me that she accomplished so much in her life. Her focus and determination was obviously fierce. Here is the link:

I will leave you with a description of Frida I believe is perfect: : “…one of history’s grand divas…a tequila-slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker, bi-sexual that hobbled about her bohemian barrio in lavish indigenous dress and threw festive dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller, and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

Here is a link to one of my favourite self-portraits:

I hope the end is joyful – and I hope never to return. ~Frido Kahlo