Frida Kahlo has been having a bit of a moment. More than a moment — her image can be found everywhere from buildings to (controversially) Barbie dolls. A triumphant display, overlaying not a small amount of tragedy.
Born in 1907, she lived for just 47 years. But how should one unpack those years? Many have tried and failed. Andre Breton summed up Kahlo as “a ribbon around a bomb.” Here are some facts about the woman remembered as one of Mexico’s greatest artists.
Kahlo lived most of her life in pain, the effect of contracting polio as a child, then being involved in a devastating road accident at age 18. Attempts to repair the damage with surgery and bone grafts exacerbated the situation. By her 40s, her days were chiefly spent in bed or in a wheelchair, her body encased in a plaster corset.
Marriage and divorce (and marriage again)
At 22 she married artist Diego Rivera — he was 42, and her parents described the wedding as the union of an elephant and a dove. Rivera and Kahlo had affair upon affair, including Rivera seeing Frida’s younger sister, Cristina, and Frida having a brief liaison with Leon Trotsky. In 1939, the couple divorced. A year later they remarried.
During her lifetime, Kahlo was initially known simply as Rivera’s partner — an exotic eccentric. Her own work, while selling in her final decade, was often overshadowed by her Bohemian reputation, and her dressing in traditional Mexican costume. She was not able to make a sustainable living from her art until late in her life.
By 1953, such was her declining physical state that for her first Mexican solo show, her four poster bed was taken from her house to the gallery, and Kahlo arrived by ambulance and was transferred from said ambulance to her bed by a stretcher. This was also the year her right leg was amputated.
The remaining years of her life were dominated by depression and anxiety, alcohol and painkillers. Rivera continued to have affairs, Kahlo attempted to take her own life. Her last words, written in her journal, were, “I joyfully await the exit — and I hope never to return –Frida.”
But return she most certainly has. Her work was revisited in the 1970s, and what followed was a trickle and then today’s torrent of fervour—”Fridamania.” Britain’s Tate Modern regards her as “one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century.” And, perhaps paradoxically, in 2017 she became an animated character in a Disney film.
This photoshoot took place in 1944.