Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón was born on 6 July 1907 in Coyoacán, a small village on the outskirts of Mexico City. Kahlo would later describe her childhood years as weighted by a resounding sadness. Her parents were plagued with ill health and a marriage devoid of love and passion. Frida’s relationship with her mother was fraught with tension. She was a fanatically religious woman who often treated her daughters with cruel and calculating contempt.
At the age of six, young Frida contracted Polio resulting in a lifelong relationship with disability and recurring periods of severe ill health. Frida’s father encouraged his daughter to find escape and solace in art, nature, philosophy, and the study and practice of photography. The isolated girl showed an early passion for political activism and social justice. In 1922, she was accepted the elite National Preparatory School with the hopes of studying medicine. On 17 September 1925, Kahlo was making her way home from school when her wooden bus collided with a streetcar. The accident would leave Frida with broken ribs, both of her legs shattered and a fractured collarbone and pelvic bone. The near-fatal incident would mark the end of Frida’s studies and the beginning of a life-altering chapter of bed-ridden recovery.
Delving Into Her Art
In the months following the tragedy, Frida delved into life within a canvas, using self-portraiture as a way to navigate her internal grapplings with mortality, identity, and existence. She had a custom-made easel attached to her bed, with a mirror placed above it so she could see herself. The intense period, inspired within her a desire “to begin again, painting things just as [she] saw them with [her] own eyes and nothing more.”
In 1928, a mobile and healthy Frida would meet Diego Rivera. The young woman would begin a relationship with the famous artist and self-confessed womanizer. The seemingly mismatched couple were later married in the town hall in 1929. The marriage was labeled by the press as a union between ‘an elephant and a dove.’ The couple soon spent time in San Francisco, where Frida came into contact with new American influences. She was regarded with awe by American audiences. With her unapologetic authenticity and traditional Mexican garb, she was somewhat fetishized as an exotic novelty. Her work was well-received, and a string of solo exhibitions in the US and Europe would soon follow.
Frida’s later years were tainted by her declining health. The artist suffered a miscarriage, a new diagnosis of scoliosis that would cause her to undergo an unsuccessful bone graft surgery to salvage her rapidly deteriorating spine. She would join the Mexican Communist Party in 1948, with as much fervor as her health allowed. Her works became primarily politically motivated, scattered with symbols that pointed to her political convictions.
In August 1953, Kahlo’s right leg was amputated at the knee due to gangrene. When she discovered, yet again, that her husband had strayed, she attempted suicide by overdosing on painkillers. Frida would eventually succumb to her ailments in 1954 at the age of 47. The artist anticipated her death, writing a final entry in her diary, stating, “I joyfully await the exit — and I hope never to return.”
Frida’s work is intertwined with Mexican culture. She was an unrelenting voice for the country, a towering figure standing tall before fascism, injustice, misogyny, and the grips of imperial colonialism.
She is considered an immortal artist of the twentieth century, repeatedly called to by the generations and generations that continue to follow her.