One Of Her Kind

 

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo

“Feet, what do I want them for if I have wings to fly?”

She had wings, she did! Her name was Frida Kahlo de Rivera; born on July 6, 1907. She often stated her birth year to be 1910 as well. They say it was to associate her with the Mexican revolution of 1910. They know her as ‘Mexican painter’. Not that she ever intended to be ‘great’ or ‘honorable’. She did what she did because she was destined to do so.

 

At the age of six, Frida developed Polio and that resulted into her right leg to appear much thinner than her left. It was a permanent condition. She hides it with her long, colorful skirts. She wanted to study medicine. During 1922, Kahlo was enrolled in the Preparatoria, one of Mexico’s premier schools, where she was one of only thirty-five girls. On September 17, 1925 Frida met with a horrible accident. The bus she was riding in collided with a trolley car. This accident brought to her a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, a dislocated shoulder, an iron handrail that pierced her abdomen and uterus. The accident gave her not only the bruises but also 35 operations on her body throughout her lifetime and severe pain to live with forever.

 

I dare all those “Live-life-to-its-fullest” wannabes to say it now. (They should be banned from posting anything on Facebook. Seriously!) Life was nothing else but a tragedy. She was bed ridden for constant three months initially. Eventually she recovered from her injuries and regained her ability to walk. The pain lasted forever though. It was intense and often left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time.

 

It was during these long hospitalizations that she started painting and eventually put a full stop on study of medicine. Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes. “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality” says the gorgeous. 55 paintings out of the total 147 are self- portraits. Kahlo was asked once why when she said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Her paintings were surrealist. Influenced by Mexican culture which shows clearly in her use of vibrant colors and the symbolic monkey that appears every now and again in her work. The paintings fall into several groups: the early pictures as she was finding her style; the numerous self-affirming portraits; the explicit portrayals of life events, such as My Birth (loaned by Madonna), a miscarriage, her failed marriage and the suicide of a friend; the still lives of Mexican fruit; ironic commentaries on the US (‘gringolandia’) and her world views, comprising naturalism, communism and the continuity and force of life. Many are oils painted on metal or wood, enabling her distinctive approach to surface and touch.

 

Kahlo married Diego Rivera in 1929 despite of her mother’s disagreement. Diego was 20 years older than Kahlo and the marriage was troubled. Both Kahlo and Rivera had numerous extra-marital affairs and the marriage ended in 1939. But, they re-united in 1940 and the marriage was still as troubled as ever.

“I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down. The other accident is Diego.”

Kahlo had a serious longing for a child. But, the accident she had been through had simply destroyed her uterus. She had three pregnancies and all three had to be terminated. The pain and anger of all this can be clearly seen in her art.

 

In 1953, when Frida Kahlo had her first solo exhibition in Mexico (the only one held in her native country during her lifetime), a local critic wrote:

“It is impossible to separate the life and work of this extraordinary person. Her paintings are her biography.”

This observation serves to explain why her work is so different from that of her contemporaries. At the time of her exhibition opening, Frida’s health was such that her Doctor told her that she was not to leave her bed. She insisted that she was going to attend her opening, and, in Frida style, she did. She arrived in an ambulance and her bed in the back of a truck. She was placed in her bed and four men carried her in to the waiting guests.

 

Soon after that on July 13th, 1954, at the age of 47, Frida passed away. She wanted to burn her body and not to bury it. She said in her diary some days before she died “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida”.

…one of history’s grand divas…a tequila-slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker, bi-sexual that hobbled about her bohemian barrio in lavish indigenous dress and threw festive dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller, and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

 

Yes, Bi-sexual – that’s what she was. It’s your call now. To judge her on basis of the strong lively person that she is or on basis of how many people and what gender she slept with. (Which is clearly none of your business you fool!)

 

Originally written for ‘The Quest – An intra personal critique’ issue #7

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