Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón (de Rivera)
1907; Coyoacán, Mexico
1954; Coyoacán, Mexico
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter best know for her surrealist self-portraits, depicting her intense emotional and physical pain. She was three years old at the onset of the Mexican Revolution, a fact which colored her from the very beginning of her life, including accounts of how her mother would rush her and her three sisters into the house because of outbreaks of gunfire in the streets outside her house. Sometimes her mother would even invite the hungry revolutionaries in for dinner.
Frida was not a stranger wither to pain or to physical disfigurement. She contracted polio at the age of six, which left her right leg thinner than her left, a fact which she disguised by wearing long skirts. When she was a student at the Preparatoria in 1922, she was in a terrible bus accident. A trolley collided with the bus that Kahlo was riding in, and she suffered sever injuries, including a broken spinal column, broken collarbone, broken ribs, broken pelvis, and her right leg was fractured in eleven different places. Her right foot was also crushed and dislocated, as was her shoulder. The bus’ iron handrail also pierced her abdomen and uterus, leaving her barren for the rest of her life.
As Kahlo was in a full body cast, she began painting to pass the time and ease her pain. She eventually recovered enough to walk again, but severe pain, keeping her in bed rest for months at a time, would plague her for the rest of her life. In her early painting career, she approached Diego Rivera, a renowned Mexican muralist, for advice on her paintings. He did more than gave her advice, and the couple was soon married. Kahlo and Rivera had a tumultuous relationship, both of them having hot tempers and extramarital affairs. They were once divorced in 1939, but remarried again in 1940. Rivera and Kahlo were both active communists, who befriended Leon Trotsky, with whom Kahlo also had an affair, and who came to live with them upon fleeing Stalinist Russia.
The year before her death, her right leg was amputated due to complications with gangrene, and she suffered complications from bronchopneumonia. Kahlo died one week after her 47th birthday. The official cause of death was a pulmonary embolism, although an autopsy was not performed, and some suspected it was a suicidal drug overdose. She was at first remembered only as Diego Rivera’s wife, but has since enjoyed a surge in popularity with the artistic movement of Neo-Mexicanismo. Her legacy now includes a number of books and feature films, and exhibitions of her works, which have been placed on United States postage stamps as well as Mexican currency.