Bisexual Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has become not only an international icon for the power and intensity of her art but also for the extraordinary suffering that she endured in life.
Born in Mexico on July 6, 1907, to a German photographer and his Mexican second wife, Kahlo became a central figure in revolutionary Mexican politics and twentieth-century art.
In 1925, at the age of eighteen, Kahlo suffered appalling injuries in a streetcar accident, when she was impaled by an iron handrail smashing through her pelvis. Multiple fractures to her spine, foot, and pelvic bones meant that the rest of her life was dominated by a struggle against severe pain and disability.
Following her accident Kahlo started painting, becoming an important surrealist. Her paintings, mostly self-portraits, employ the iconography of ancient Mesoamerican cultures to depict both her physical suffering and her passion for Mexican politics and for the love of her life, Diego Rivera, whom she married in 1929.
A famous painter of heroic revolutionary murals, Rivera was much older than Kahlo and incapable of sexual fidelity. When he began an affair with her sister, Kahlo left Mexico. However, she forgave him for this and other infidelities. She divorced Diego in 1940 but remarried him later the same year.
Both artists had numerous affairs. Among Kahlo’s lovers were Leon Trotsky and other men, but they also included several women. Her friend Lucienne Bloch recalled Rivera saying, “You know that Frida is a homosexual, don’t you?” But the complexity of the artists’ marriage warns against taking this statement at face value.
She was a master of cross-dressing, deliberately using male “drag” to project power and independence. A family photograph from 1926 shows her in full male attire.
Clothes were extremely important to Kahlo. Frida used dress to make a nationalist political point, she also used it to make a statement about her independence from feminine norms.
Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, soon after turning 47. A few days before her death, she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida”. The official cause of death was given as a pulmonary embolism, although some suspected that she died from an overdose that may or may not have been accidental. An autopsy was never performed.
Diego Rivera would write that the day Kahlo died was the most tragic day of his life, adding that, too late, he had realized that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her
Frida has been described as: “…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.“
Today, more than half a century after her death, her paintings fetch more money than any other female artist.
You can view some of Frida Kahlo’s selected artworks by CLICKING HERE