By Hannah Schenker
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has long captured our imaginations. Her tragic story of childhood polio and as a teenager nearly dying after a horrendous accident, is a story of pain both physical and emotional. Being bed-bound and recovering, Frida began to paint. Seeing her paintings is to peer into her life, a life so raw and human and difficult and wonderful – of her 143 paintings, 55 are self-portaits. This is a life experience that glistens and bleeds through her paintings – we can feel her pain.
At the age of 18, a bus Frida was travelling in collided with a trolley car, an accident that left her with life-long injuries. The accident left Frida with: a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone ribs and pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. Several people were killed and Frida was impaled by an iron handrail which pierced her abdomen and her uterus. The accident left her in a full-body cast for several months; it was at this time she began to paint – in bed, on her back. Over the course of her life, she had more than 30 surgeries.
I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best
Her turbulent relationship with older artist Diego Rivera, who she married twice and which was marred by multiple affairs (on both sides), is also fascinating and extraordinary, and the subject of several paintings.
There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.
You may be wondering what Frida Kahlo has to do with parenting – and the truth is actually very sad. Frida longed to have a child with Diego, but had a miscarriage in 1932, after an earlier abortion when it became clear her body couldn’t carry the pregnancy. This is likely a result of the devastating injuries she suffered in the tram accident. This has only recently been revealed after private letters between Frida and her physician, written between 1932 and 1951, were discovered after many years locked away at Diego’s instruction. You can read more about the letters HERE.
So yes, Frida wanted to be a mama; that she couldn’t, just adds to the tragedy of her life story. Her willingness to carry on, to create, to keep living is something both inspiring and unbelievable – the kind of strength she must have had!
But Kahlo intrigues not only because of her life experience, but also her striking appearance. The bold, vibrant colours of her paintings translated into the clothes she wore – often in traditional Mexican dress, the long skirts to cover her polio-damaged foot. She was also known for dressing like a man in her late teens, and in all of her paintings she claims her dark monobrow.
Here are some less well-known photos, as found on Vintage Everyday.