The Pain of Frida Kahlo

Until a couple of months ago I had never heard of Frida Kahlo. To be honest I don’t  know much about art of any kind. Over the weekend I went to an exhibit of Kahlo’s work at McAninch Arts Center.

I took some pictures of the works that had an impact on me.  WARNING ⚠️  some of them might be considered graphic.

The Life of Frida Kahlo (excerpts from aruma.com)

As one of the most iconic artists of recent times, Frida Kahlo has a life story that has become almost as popular as her art.

Portrait of Frida Kahlo

Frida was born in 1907 in a village on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Frida was especially close to her father, and she would spend days on end helping him out in his photography studio, where she got a taste for the arts…She loved helping her dad out, and even took some drawing lessons from a family friend…

…she was fascinated by the sciences and biology, and dreamed of one day becoming a doctor.

When she was six, she caught [polio] …which caused her right leg to become thinner and shorter than her left. Later in life, Frida became well known for wearing long colourful skirts– something she started wearing to hide her leg.

…[she] had to take months off school. The other kids didn’t want anything to do with her, and they bullied her for the limp she now had.

…Even though at the time many said physical exercise was ‘unsuitable’ for girls, her dad urged her to get out and play sports which helped her get her strength back!

When Frida was 18, she was travelling …on a wooden bus when it collided with a streetcar…Frida was nearly killed in the crash…an iron handrail went into her hip and came out the other side…she also broke her spinal column, collarbone, ribs, pelvis, right leg in 11 places, and dislocated her shoulder.

…She had to have 35 operations over her life to help with her spinal injuries, and she lived with chronic pain.

Frida’s long recovery was however when she did begin to paint. She would sit in her bed with an easle, mostly painting self-portraits by looking at herself in a mirror across the room.

Frida Kahlo posing for a portrait in 1932

…Frida created 143 paintings including 55 self-portraits. Kahlo said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”

Her raw and emotional self-portraits often showed both her physical and psychological wounds from her life and accident with themes of pain, disability, injury and fragility.  She even showed one of the several miscarriages she experienced – likely due to the accident which damaged her uterus and had made pregnancy impossible.

Frida and her husband Diego

…when Frida was 20, she had admired the work of the famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera for many years…she eventually met him, and despite a 20-year age difference, [they] quickly fell for each other, leading Diego to leave his second wife and marry Frida.  People often referred to the couple as “The Elephant and the Dove” due to the difference in their size.

Frida’s 10 year marriage with Diego was stormy with both having multiple affairs. Frida had affairs with both men and women. Diego even had an affair with Frida’s younger sister Cristina which infuriated her! They divorced…but remarried a year later. Although their second marriage was as troubled as the first, Frida remained married to Diego till her death.

Kahlo's wheelchair and adjustable easel in La Casa Azul, with one of her still lifes from her final years

…toward the end of her short life, Frida was excited to be opening her first solo exhibition in Mexico.  She arrived at the gallery in an ambulance, and ordered that she be brought in on a stretcher and moved to a bed, where she was able to enjoy the opening.

Kahlo in 1932, photographed by her father

… as Frida’s health worsened, her right leg was eventually amputated at the knee due to gangrene. She became depressed and anxious, and her dependency to painkillers worsened.

In her last days, [she was] bedridden with bronchopneumonia. [But] she attended and spoke at a demonstration against the CIA invasion of Guatemala. She…[died that same night due to a] pulmonary embolism, but some suggest she may have died through suicide or overdose.

A few days before her death, she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida”.

Frida Kahlo posing for a photo

Her life including the bus accident, the turbulent marriage, the love affairs, her heavy drinking and drug use, have inspired many books and movies over the years including the 2002 biographical film ‘Frida’, staring Salma Hayek.


BONUS – A local restaurant was offering authentic Mexican food on the patio of the museum. We had quesadillas (chicken & beef) and street corn. I will definitely be visiting Santa Fe Restaurant the next time I am in the area.

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