Frida Kahlo

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Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico, – July 13, 1954) was a Mexican painter of the indigenous culture of her country in a style combining realism and symbolism, an active Communist supporter, and wife of the Mexican muralist and cubist painter Diego Rivera. Kahlo was noted for her unconventional appearance, including pronounced eyebrows (unibrow) and a thin moustache which she did not remove, and her choice of flamboyantly styled clothing.


Early life

Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón in her parents' house in Coyoacán, which at the time was a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Her father, Guillermo Kahlo, was a painter and photographer of German-Jewish background, whose family originated from Oradea, Romania. The young Frida suffered a bout of polio at age six, which left her right leg looking much thinner than the other. Still, with the feisty and brash personality that she kept throughout her life, she overcame her disability.

In 1925, a trolley car collided with a bus Kahlo was riding; an iron handrail impaled her, broke her spine, and exited through her vagina. She survived her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, but she would have relapses of extreme pain which would plague her for life.

Career as painter

After the accident, Kahlo turned her attention from a medical career to painting. Drawing on her personal experiences, her works are often shocking in their stark portrayal of pain and the harsh lives of women. Fifty-five of her 143 paintings are self-portraits that incorporate personal symbolism complete with graphic anatomical references. She was also influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, aspects of which she portrayed in bright colors, with a mixture of realism and symbolism.

Although Kahlo's work is sometimes classified as surrealist and she did exhibit several times with European surrealists, she disputed the label. Her preoccupation with female themes and the figurative candor with which she expressed them made her something of a feminist cult figure in the last decades of the 20th century.

Marriage to Diego Rivera

Her paintings attracted the attention of fellow artist Diego Rivera, whom she later married. They were often referred to as "The Elephant and the Dove" due to their difference in size. When they first married, he was 42, 6 ft 1 in. (1.86 m) tall, and 300 pounds (136 kg); she was 22, 5'3", and 98 pounds. Their marriage was a stormy one, both had numerous extramarital affairs. Frida was known to take both female and male lovers including Georgia O'Keefe and Leon Trotsky. The couple divorced, but remarried in 1940.

Communist activist

An active Communist supporter, Kahlo allegedly had an affair with Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated at his home in Mexico City by agents of Stalin in 1940. Sometime after Trotsky's death, Frida denounced her former friend and praised the Soviet Union under Stalin. She spoke favorably of Mao, calling China "the new socialist hope". Her home was decorated with socialist art, including portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Stalin, and Mao Zedong.


Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, supposedly of a pulmonary embolism. She had been ill throughout the previous year and had had a leg amputated owing to gangrene. However, an autopsy was never performed; and many are convinced that she committed suicide. A few days before her death she had written into her diary: "I hope the exit is joyful; and I hope never to come back". The pre-Columbian urn holding her ashes is on display in her former home La Casa Azul in Coyoacán that has been turned into a museum for a number of her works of art.

See also

A biographical documentary containing archival footage, entitled Frida Kahlo, was released in 1982 in Germany. In 1984 director Paul Le Duc released the film Frida, naturaleza viva, which stars Ofelia Medina as Frida Kahlo. In 2002, Miramax released a motion picture titled Frida, starring Salma Hayek in the title role.

External links

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  • Diary of Frida Kahlo. Edited by Carlos Fuentes. 296 pages. Harry N. Abrams (March 1, 1998). ISBN 0810981955.
  • The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas. Edited by Martha Zamora. 159 pages. Chronicle Books (November 1, 1995). ISBN 0811811247.
  • Herrera, Hayden. Frida : A Biography of Frida Kahlo. 528 pages. Perennial (October 1, 2002). ISBN 0060085894.
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