The iconic Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s most famous artists and a favorite of the feminist movement. Her surreal, yet highly personal self-portraits told the story of a life fraught with illness, heartbreak, and political strife.
Kahlo was born in 1907, in Mexico City. She contracted polio at age 6, which left her bedridden for 9 months and may have served as an early warning for what she could expect out of life. In 1922, Kahlo attended the National Preparatory School, where she was one of only a few female students. She first encountered her future husband Diego Rivera here, when he was commissioned to paint a mural for the school.
In 1925, Kahlo and her boyfriend were involved in a bus collision. Kahlo was impaled through the hip by a steel handrail. She began to paint during her recovery, and finished her first self-portrait in 1926. She also became politically active after the accident, joining the Young Communist League and the Mexican Communist Party.
At age 21, Kahlo began a relationship with Diego Rivera; they married in 1929. Rivera was a muralist and traveled frequently; Kahlo followed him from San Francisco to New York City to Detroit. After the controversy surrounding Rivera’s work on Men at the Crossroads – Rivera painted Vladimir Lenin into the mural – he and Kahlo returned to Mexico.
Rivera had numerous affairs, including one with Kahlo’s sister. Rivera and Kahlo lived in separate but adjoining homes. In 1939, Kahlo moved to Paris, divorcing Rivera shortly afterward. It was during this time that she painted one of her most famous pieces, The Two Fridas. Kahlo remarried Rivera in 1940, although they lived separate lives and saw other people.
The artist has said: “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
Kahlo experienced health issues throughout her life, but these issues became debilitating in 1950. Despite this, she remained politically active and continued to paint. In 1953, she attended her first solo exhibition, arriving in an ambulance and spending the entire event in a bed set up in the gallery for her use. Her final public appearance was at a protest against the overthrow of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954.
Shortly afterward, a week after her 47th birthday, Frida Kahlo died. La Casa Azul, the house where her life began and ended, is now a museum dedicated to her and her work.
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