Frida Kahlo: Lover of Self and Others

Hello, everyone. Laura is having an incredibly rough time at the moment, so I (Grace) am filling in with an article about the lovely Frida Kahlo. Before I get to her, however, let me say this: Laura loves these articles, and you lot more than it is possible to say. The struggle that’s going on right now is a big one, and I’m asking you, lovely readers, to consider putting a dollar into our one-time donations so we can try and make Laura’s life a little easier. Capitalism is not an easy thing to combat – as our Frida would likely agree.

Frida’s life seems best encompassed by three themes: her art, her politics, and her love. To explore these themes properly, however, we must look at where she came from. Frida herself states that she was born in La Casa Azul, a home just outside of Mexico City. Her parents were Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez and Guillermo Kahlo. Guillermo was a photographer who had spent part of his life in Germany, but who emigrated to Mexico due to (debated) Jewish affiliation.

Her childhood was spent dealing with the consequences of a bout of polio, which caused damage to one of Frida’s legs. This lent to Frida’s intense and life-long battle with pain, in addition to the bus accident that damaged the lower half of Frida’s body.

It was after her bus accident in 1925 that Frida began to focus on her artwork. Her first recorded painting is one entitled Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress, painted in 1926. This portrait of Frida places the artist against a background of waves and is said to be based on Italian Renaissance paintings that came before it (Herrera). Frida continued to paint self-portraits throughout her life. Notable works include A Few Small Nips, Self-Portrait With a Monkey, and The Broken Column.

Frida used both A Few Small Nips and The Broken Column to display the intense pain she endured throughout her life. When her reproductive organs were damaged (courtesy of her bus accident), she was unable to carry a child and endured many miscarriages throughout her life. A Few Small Nips displays her anguish after the loss of one of her children. The Broken Column, in turn, displays her frustration with her spine. Frida endured many surgeries throughout her life, none of which seemed to lessen her pain. This portrait, albeit a little NSFW, is a raw and pained expression of the supports Frida used to assist her spine.

Frida also used her art, however, to discuss her politics – as did her husband, Diego Rivera. Rivera labeled himself a communist and caused a stir in the United States when he painted his Man at a Crossroads on the wall of the Rockefeller Center, displaying Vladimir Lenin at a Soviet May Day Parade. Frida, in her youth, joined an intellectual group called Los Cachuchas and eventually associating herself with socialism (Ole). She would later identify herself as a communist, eventually housing Leon Trotsky in her house when he was expelled from SovietRussia.The painting Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick was painted in 1954 and is possibly Frita’s most obvious artistic statement of her political opinions. The painting is once again a self-portrait, but the figure of Marx is pictured above Frida’s head.To her left is a globe that is covered by the wings of a dove. Not only does this painting display Marx as an arguably deified figure, then, but it implies that Marxism will not only provide health for the sick but peace for the world.

If this does not paint a controversial enough picture, the curious can direct themselves to Frida’s love life. There are numerous sources which only mention the male lovers that Frida took over her life – unfortunate, but not surprising. Those sources that do mention Frida’s female lovers are far more satisfying to read and are arguably truer to Frida’s person.

Diego Rivera was not a man who confined himself to monogamy. In several ironic turns of events, however, the women whom Rivera bedded often found themselves being bedded by Frida, as well. According to Kathy Belge, Frida’s lovers included Dolores del Rio, Paulette Goddard, and Maria Felix. Readers and listeners of Queer History also know that Frida and Josephine Baker had an affair. It is also suggested that Frida and Georgia O’Keefe spent time getting to know one another – not just exchanging artistic advice, of course. The painting Two Nudes in a Forest, painted in 1939, depicts two women in a forest, lying close to one another. This, Belge suggests, was one artistic way in which Frida expressed her love of women.

Frida was free with her love, of course, giving it to both men and women. There are quotes in the 2002 movie, Frida, which imply a thematic distaste and distrust for marriage within not only Frida but within her society – however, it’s unclear as to whether or not these quotes are the work of fact or fiction. It is clear, though, that Frida found her love unconfined by marriage or gender.

Frida Kahlo’s legacy is one that can be grandiose or small, depending on who is telling the story. She can be reduced to the wife of Diego Rivera or exalted as a goddess of art and love. Whichever the case, it is worth looking into her story as to know more about her as a person and not a product of one or two extremes.

It is said that Frida ended her life in La Casa Azul, effectively bookending herself in her home near Mexico City. While this may be a work of fancy, it is worth noting Frida’s quest to understand her own identity. Her numerous self-portraits, her willingness to explore her attraction, and her unwavering determination in the face of politics and years of years of pain exhibit a woman who, small or large, endured all that the world thrust upon her and then some. Why, if this is the case, should anyone try and reduce her?

Sources:

Belge, Kathy. “Biography of Bisexual Painter Frida Kahlo”. Lesbian Life. Web.

Herrera,Hayden. “Kahlo, Frida”. Oxford Art Online. Oxford ArtOnline. Web.

Oles, James. “At the Café of los Cachuchas: Frida Kahlo in
the 1920s”. Hispanic Research Journal
V.8, 2007.
Web.