Whether we’re talking about politics, show business, films or sports, Mexico has given the world countless figures of international renown. Yet if there’s one person that stands out above the rest in the world of art, then that person is Frida Kahlo.
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo was one of Mexico’s greatest artists. Born in 1907 the life of this artist has been featured in a film starring the Mexican actress Salma Hayek.
Frida was one of four daughters born to a Jewish-Hungarian father and a mother of Mexican Indian descent. Frida survived a childhood bout of polio, but at the age of 18 she had a serious bus accident. With a broken back, shoulders and ribs, as well as a shattered pelvis and damaged foot, she was bedridden for around a year. During her lifetime she had more than 30 operations, and started painting during her convalescence. Her works were deliberately naïve and full of colour, featuring shapes and forms inspired by Mexican folk art.
At the age of 22 she married Mexican mural artist Diego Rivera, who was 20 years older than her. This passionate and stormy relationship came through countless adversities, including infidelity, the pressures of their respective careers, divorce, a second wedding, Frida’s lesbian love affairs, her poor health and inability to have children.
During her lifetime, Frida produced some 200 paintings, drawings and sketches related to her experiences of life, physical and emotional pain and her turbulent relationship with Diego. When asked why she painted so many self-portraits, Frida answered, “Because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best”. In 1953, during her first individual exhibition in Mexico (the only one to be held in her native country during her lifetime), a local critic wrote, “It’s impossible to separate the life and work of this extraordinary person. Her paintings are her biography”. When the exhibition opened, Frida’s health was so poor that her doctor advised her to stay in bed. Yet Frida insisted on attending the opening event, and in pure Frida style, that’s exactly what she did, arriving by ambulance and transporting her bed on the back of a lorry. They put her on the bed and four men carried her into the room where her guests were waiting for her.
Frida and Diego were active members of Mexico’s Communist Party, and played a direct role in the struggle against the Americanisation of Mexico. Indeed, during 1938 and 1939, Leon Trotsky was a guest in their home, and it is rumoured that he and Frida had an affair. Other famous figures that the artist knew personally included André Bretón and Picasso.
On the day after her death on 13th July 1954, at the age of 47, friends and families gathered for the cremation of Mexico’s greatest and most original artist. On the verge of becoming an international icon, Frida managed to give her followers an unforgettable final farewell. Whilst the laments of her admirers filled the room, a sudden rush of heat from the open doors of the incinerator forced her body into a seated position. The flames around her hair glowed, creating the impression of a halo, and a seductive smile seemed to hover on Frida’s lips as the doors closed. Her final entry in her diary reads, “I hope the leaving is joyful and I hope never to return – Frida”.
Frida has been described as “…one of history’s greatest divas…..a drinker of tequila, smoker and teller of risqué jokes; a bisexual who limped around her bohemian neighbourhood dressed in extravagant native costumes and who held gay dinners for people such as Leon Trotsky, the poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller and her on-off husband, mural artist Diego Rivera.” . Today, her works fetch more money that those of any other female artist. A tour of the Frida Kahlo Museum is a journey back in time. All her personal belongings are scattered around her home, and everything appears to be exactly as she left it. You get the feeling that she still lives there and has just popped out to let you visit her private shrine. She may no longer be with us, but her legacy will live forever….