Frida Kahlo lived the epitome of alegría—a lust for life.
She was infamous for her social fire. She danced, flirted, and seduced. Her ferocious tongue rolled out a black sense of humour and sharp wit. She kept a home for her husband Diego. She loved her pets – spider monkeys and gods. She loved guff, gossips and jokes. She treated servants like family and kids like equals
But Frida’s vitality was juxtaposed with anguish.
“Do not forget me”, she begged her friends and lovers to visit her often. She was often lonely and was confined to the prison of the hospital bed.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) has often been classified as a surrealist, though she herself argue that she draws more “her reality, that her dreams”. A brilliant painter, she is most famous for her portraits in which she paints herself in a surrealistic manner. “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale”, one of the exceptionally powerful paintings of Frida Kahlo, depicts the suicide of the aspiring American actress Dorothy Hale. The painting combines the literal and metaphorical, the real and the surreal, showing every step of Hale’s suicide.
A life full of setbacks
Frida Kahlo endured two great life tragedies.
The first: a horrific trolley accident in her youth. In the wake of its destruction, it left Frida with her spine and pelvis broken, a crushed foot, and a lifetime of suffering and pain.
The second: The “worst” tragedy was her husband: the two-timing painter Diego Rivera and his numerous infidelities.
“Diego,” she said, “was by far the worst.”
Kahlo was distressed, but the couple attempted to compromise: Each was free to have sex with whomever they wanted. For a while, this arrangement appeared to work to an extent, and Kahlo engaged in several affairs with men and women alike.
But while she trained herself to tolerate Diego’s alliance with strangers, Kahlo was deeply betrayed by his affair with her own younger sister, Cristina.
Subsequently, Frida would have an affair with the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was Frida’s el Viejo, “the old man,” who delighted her with his intellectual spirit. Of course, conducting an affair with Rivera’s idol did not please him.
Even in the midst of his philandering ways, Rivera did show his love by providing Frida financial support and exposure in the art world. He didn’t just view himself as a husband but also a fellow artist to her. It was a miracle their romance survived.
The transcending pain of Frida Kahlo paintings
In her long-drawn-out recovery, she willed herself to paint. Her compositions were surreal
Kahlo’s art had become increasingly refined and highly personal over the years. Expressionist painter Edvard Munch would be one of the few to have comprehended her exorcism.
One of her “straightforward” works was “Self-Portrait,” essentially a painted mirror image of herself with a thorn necklace, not unlike Christ’s crown of thorns, piercing her neck, and a pendant in the form of a hummingbird, symbolising the souls of Aztec warriors killed in battle.
“The Broken Column” of 1944 depicts a nude Kahlo jailed in her constraints of her medical corsets. Nails protruded from her skin like hair. Her body reveals a shattered Greek column in place of her spine. Pale tears stream down her face.
Bedridden in Mexico, Kahlo summoned her strength to paint between bouts of illness with little relief from the body aches. In the 1950s, she endured a year in a Mexico City hospital. Many treatments to straighten her spine worsened the disease. Being suspended from the ceiling with sand bags attached to her feet, they only served to damage her further.
Whether or not they were cognizant of the autobiographical context of Kahlo’s work, art communities were enchanted by her fantastical and grotesque imageries. In 1938, Frida was overjoyed when a Network gallery owner invited her to hold a one-woman show, in which she was celebrated as a painter outside of her more famous husband’s shadow.
Frida delighted in another achievement: In the spring of 1953, a gallery in Mexico presented her a solo exhibition, her only art show in her lifetime held in her home country.
But doctors prescribed her to stay in bed. So stayed in bed she did. But she did not stay at home. The quick-witted artist was not going to be absent from her show.
Waiting for the show, a crowd of fans watched as an ambulance deposit Frida Kahlo onto a four-posted bed in the middle of the gallery.
Her expression betrayed the lifetime of unending pain. Yet, it glowed with exhilaration, for she was in the spotlight of attention and the centre of the party.
Despite her paintings frequently categorised as surrealism, Kahlo considered her masterpieces as bizarre reality.
“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
Frida Kahlo infused her canvas with her native Mexican birthright and the historical epochs of her life.
The stars, the earth, and the body all mingled with her painful reality, the long-term aftermaths of the life-changing trolley accident bleed onto the abstracts of Mexican symbols and history. It was colonial and revolutionary. The abstract was all too concrete for her, as real as the prison of pain.
While, many dislike Salvador Dali’s form of expression or undeniably love it for it is abnormal, thought-provoking style, the world has unanimously mulled over Kahlo’s diversity on the canvas
Frida Kahlo was not forgotten.