Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, popularly known as Frida Kahlo was born today, 110 years ago in Mexico. Hers is a story of grit, determination and not giving up on her dreams, even as life dealt her a harsh hand.
She focused on creating self-portraits, saying that she knew herself best as a result of spending so much time with herself. She integrated Mexican folk-art into her style after marrying Diego, a famous a painter (she tried hard to move away from being a famous wife to a famous painter in her own right. Her work is celebrated by Mexican indigenous traditions because of its engagement with questions about what constituted a Mexican identity. Her depiction of women and their forms have established her identity as among the earliest feminist artists.
Life for Frida was tough from the beginning. At the age of 6, she contracted polio, leaving her right leg weaker and shorter than the left. At 19, she sustained severe injuries in an accident, which left her with a lifetime of pain and health problems. Almost bedridden, she confined to a hospital for months at a time. Originally intending to become a doctor, Frida turned to painting during her convalescence – painting as she lay on her bed
“I am not sick”, she said famously, ” I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.”
She was a firebrand who refused the patriarchy that Mexican culture presented her with. Many of her self-portraits present the subject as much less attractive in the paintings. She undertook the breaking of stereotypes both in her paintings and her life. Her decision to remain childless was taboo at the time. She kept her unibrow and slight moustache, (considered masculine by society), but she didn’t care what society thought of her.
The Two Fridas
The above image, titled, ‘The two Fridas’, captures the dualism in her personality. They represent her Mexican and European heritage, made evident by the clothes they wear. The Mexican Frida is a traditionalist, but has been deeply hurt, while her modern self remains intact. She created it after her divorce with Diego, and the turmoil she underwent is captured in the background.
Frieda and Diego Rivera
Diego and I
In both of the above paintings, she subverts the patriarchy subtly even though she appears to perpetuate it. In “Frieda and Diego Rivera”, she portrays herself as a veritable dwarf compared to Diego, but places her name before his in the nomenclature of the painting. In “Diego and I”, the name places her husband before her, but Frida remains the main focus of the painting.
Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair
Making a statement, the above portrait was created post-divorce. In this Frida is shown abandoning the hair and dress that attracted Diego towards her. She chops-off her long locks in an act of anger and defiance. She embraces masculinity by wearing a black suit, the only remnant of her femininity being her earrings. Thus, she places herself in the indefinable zone, belonging to no single gender, breaking the stereotypes and rules that bind each.
“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the train the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” – she did not shy away from denouncing the man she left
Not that for reason alone, but for all the qualities she had (she remains the ultimate feminist), she is still an inspiration to women across the world, preaching self-respect and utter acceptance of the self in spite of flaws. Through her life and work, she unfettered femininity from its rules and allowed for its individual interpretation. But most importantly, she set an example for generations of women to come.
By Halak Pandya.
Halak is an undergraduate student pursuing literature. She aspires to be a writer. Halak also holds a Master Diploma in Bharatnatyam and a Black belt in Taekwondo. She describes herself as a luftmensch.