Frida Kahlo de Rivera (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954; born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón) was a Mexican painter who, at the age of eighteen, experienced a horrible bus accident where her spine was permanently destroyed. After the accident she was operated for thirty-two times. Frida was sentenced to life in pain, wearing a metal corset for the rest of her life. However, her lust for life was so strong that she even named one of her paintings “Viva la Vida”.
When she was only six years old, Frida got sick from polio and spent nine months in bed enduring horrible pain. In order to cope with her illness, she plunged into the world of fantasy, where her imaginary friend was waiting for her, always smiling. When she recovered, one of her legs was thinner and shorter. The children mocked her. She realized that she was marked.
Kid’s mockery provoked anger in Frida, but not the loss of confidence. Faced with pity and malice, even so young, Frida did not accept defeat. She despised showing any weakness and she never cried. When she realized that she is different from other children, she tried to be better. She learned to ride a bike, climbed trees and swam faster than the other girls. She was unable to jump over the rope, but she learned wrestling and boxing, which was not common for girls of that time, nor is it today.
Her mother secretly pitied Frida, but the father had nothing but support and admiration for his daughter. He told her that she is better than others because she was braver and smarter. She was his favorite child, and of his six daughters, she was the only one who went to school.
The father, who immigrated to Mexico from Germany, was a prominent art photographer, sweet-tempered, closed and withdrawn. He played the piano and read the German philosophers. Her mother was illiterate, determined, practical, stubborn, unhappy and generally moody.
Frida grew up as an energetic, restless young woman who wore short hair and pants. She read a lot and had only male friends, who she went out with. In high school, where she got admitted by falsifying her age, she became a member of the Young Communists and another intellectually-like minded group where she was the only girl. The group leader, Alejandro, was Frida’s high school boyfriend for three years.
In a family photograph, taken by her father, you can see Frida wearing men’s suits with vest and tie, while her sister and mother are wearing appropriate dresses. The father is proud of her attitude during posturing, while the mother is horrified.
A young Frida Kahlo (far left) and her family in 1926
She wanted to finish her studies and become a doctor. But then came the worst day of her life. She walked through the street with Alejandro, they entered the wooden bus, and then they heard the sound of braking, a dull blow, shattering glass and wood. During the collision, a long metal rod broke through Frida’s stomach coming out on the other side.
Doctors have doubted that she will survive, much less that she will ever walk again. Right, the shorter leg was broken in eleven places, foot and pelvis were crushed, spine cut into three pieces, ribs and collarbone broken. After surgery, it was convenient that as a child Frida has learned to lay and rest. For months she lay motionless on her back, in plaster from head to toe, in unspeakable pain.
When the pain became bearable, boredom started to torment Frida. The mother thought that painting might amuse Frida, so she brought the paint, brushes and a small easel that could be placed on the bed. Her father placed the mirror above the bed so she could see her face. And so she began to paint the nearest target – herself. Of one hundred forty-three Frida’s paintings, fifty-five are self-portraits. She painted every day, practicing her hand and studying the history of European art. She progressed quickly.
Frida in her bed with painted plaster (left) and painting (right), after the bus accident
Long-term immobility sharpened her perception for details. She painted the “Bus”, a reminder of the accident, and she sent her “Portrait in velvet dress” to Alejandro who began to drift apart from her after the accident. She wanted to have him back and she managed to succeed. Having got the picture, for some time Alejandro and Frida were back together. During that period she became aware of what would later become the main feature of her art – the her paintings that have the power of speech. On the first self-portrait Frida has a soft, gentle expression that disappears in her later work.
Frida’s recovery was a miracle. Again she stood up on her feet. She was nineteen years old. There was no money for her education, so she had to find a job. The only thing she ever learned was painting. At a party she met Diego Rivera, Mexico’s greatest painters. She showed him her paintings. What will Rivera, at the time a giant and a legend, say about the paintings of the young, unknown, self-taught crippled girl who was rude enough to say that she wants to earn a living by painting because it is the least boring thing to her? He looked at her lasciviously, but long and carefully at her paintings and finally said seriously: “Your pictures are special, and ‘Mexican’. You are gifted, you have your own style. You have to keep on painting, but do not imitate anyone. Be yourself, because you are different and good enough.”
Only her father supported her work like that, but now the words were coming from a man whom she admired even when she was younger, while he worked on a mural at her school. From that moment Frida painted tirelessly, and began a stormy love affair with Diego, one that would last until the end of her life. While in Diego’s life painting and the politics were the two most important things, for her, it has always been just him, Diego.
Frida and Diego (Wedding Portrait) 1931
Shortly after their wedding, she found out that Rivera’s love for her does not exclude his connection with other women. He longed for the freedom to have any woman. He was physically unattractive, but women were all over him. They wanted to pose for him and so to be immortalized in his murals. The connection with him was, they believed, a shortcut to eternity. In Mexico, he was a god, a representative of the Mexican Renaissance as a painter and an ideologue of the working class. Rivera worked on great murals in Mexico and America. He was a fervent communist who accepted orders from the capitalists. “He is a cactus that thrives everywhere, both in the sand and the stones. And when it blossoms, its flowers are as beautiful as the sun“, wrote Frida to a friend.
Diego’s infidelity hurt Frida. She tried to justify his behavior as a fruit of his artistic nature, desire to possess beauty, that he needed that kind of enthusiasm as a form of the eternal quest for inspiration, that he enters into relationships with beautiful women because of his artistic yearnings for perfection. She was naive to believe that one day he will change. During only one year she had seven spine operations and she spent nine months in hospital. Because of that she felt that she deserves loyalty. But nothing changed. He was a man who fed his ego with the number of his lovers.
She decided that she had to fight for herself in her own way. She decided to be different by being ruthlessly honest and naked in front of the world, as no one is willing to be. She painted her broken back, the wound on her leg, heart cut out, herself dead, the blood that flows out from the cuts in her veins, arrow stabbed body, blood stains on white sheets, aborted fetuses. Painter Georgia O’Keefe said to Frida, when she saw painting “The Birth” in New York, that no one before her dared to paint such an act, because no one wants to see the power of women, while giving life. She painted her own face, consciously pointing out the roughness and shortcomings: she painted facial hair, mustaches and connected eyebrows, which she could have had removed, if she wanted to be like others.
She began to dress as a peasant woman from Tehuana: wearing colorful long skirts and scarves, decorating her hair with flowers and ribbons, wearing jewelry and scarlet lipstick. Every morning, she dressed herself as if she’s going out on the theatrical scene. She combed her hair and dressed for hours. Former city girl, a modern young woman who is usually wearing pants, leather jackets and men’s boots, consciously transformed into a showpiece of the ethnological museum. That is how she created even today recognizable ‘’Frida style’’.
She had a need to do everything that she hasn’t supposed to. She went dancing, engaged in connection with men and women wanting to feel something other than pain in her body. She was making friendship with Diego’s women in order to devaluate their significance and to make her position bearable. She marched, protested, hated injustice and believed that communism would save the world from poverty.
On the surface she was cheerful, seductive, fun person with unique look and a sense of humor, which everyone loved. When her legs were cut off because of gangrene, she said: “I don’t care about my feet, I have wings.” At the opening of her exhibition in Mexico in 1950, she came by the ambulance, accompanied by a motorcyclist. She entered on a stretcher and was putted to bed in the middle of the gallery. She was entertaining the guest through the whole evening, laughing and celebrating.
When in the spring of the 1938th André Breton visited Trotsky who was hiding in Frida’s house, he saw her paintings and, delighted, called it surreal. She laughed and said, “No, they are autobiographical, I paint my life.” He didn’t understand that her life is pure surrealism, and that her paintings contained Mexican folk art, mythology, religion, contemporary street art and pre-Columbian art – never before seen in such combination.
At the exhibition in Paris, her paintings were admired by Juan Miro, Kandinsky, and Duchamp. Critics were full of praise, pointing out her uniqueness and honesty. Delighted Picasso gave her earrings made of tortoiseshell in the form of two small hands, which immediately became her favorite jewelry.
Ten days before her death in 1954. year, she spent four hours in the pouring rain, despite the ban of the doctors, along with Diego Rivera participating in a street march of solidarity with the government of Guatemala’s leftist president. She was sitting in a wheelchair. She wanted to be a part of life until the end. She decided to do impossible, to take unnecessary risks, to be crazy stubbornne and to strain her body to the limit. She survived thanks to her own will. That is how she became a myth. She was forty-seven years old when she died.
”Viva la vida” 1954