Today marks the 57th anniversary of the death of Frida Kahlo de Rivera, internationally acclaimed Mexican artist and one of my favorite art personalities of all time. Born in Coyoacán, Frida would have turned 104 years old this year. Kahlo’s work is remembered for its “pain and passion”, and its intense, vibrant colors. Her work has been celebrated in Mexico as emblematic of national and indigenous tradition, and by feminists for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
Her work has also been described as “surrealist”, and in 1938 one surrealist described Kahlo herself as a “ribbon around a bomb”. Kahlo suffered lifelong health problems, many of which stemmed from a traffic accident in her teenage years. These issues are reflected in her works, more than half of which are self-portraits of one sort or another, which she is best known for. Kahlo suggested, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” She also stated, “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.”
Frida was one of four daughters born to a Hungarian-Jewish father and a mother of Spanish and Mexican Indian descent. She did not originally plan to become an artist. A survivor of polio, she initially entered a pre-med program in Mexico City.
During her lifetime, Frida created some 200 paintings, drawings and sketches. Today, more than half a century after her death, her paintings fetch more money than any other female artist. Her works were related to her experiences in life, physical and emotional pain and her turbulent relationship with her husband the artist, Diego Rivera. She produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many self-portraits, Frida replied: “Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.”
Once when asked what to do with her body when she dies, Frida replied: “Burn it…I don’t want to be buried. I have spent too much time lying down…Just burn it!” On the day after her death, mourners gathered at the crematorium to witness the cremation of Mexico’s greatest and most shocking painter. Her ashes were placed in a pre-Columbian urn which is on display in the “Blue House” that she shared with Rivera. One year after her death, Rivera gave the house to the Mexican government to become a museum. Diego Rivera died in 1957. On July 12th, 1958, the “Blue House” was officially opened as the “Museo Frida Kahlo”.
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.”
Her life story was transformed into a rich, colorful feature film simply titled, “Frida.” It featured Salma Hayek in the title role which lead to her nomination for an Oscar in the category of “Best Actress” that year (2002). The film was directed by the Broadway veteran, Julie Taymor and was nominated for a total of six Academy Awards. It won in two categories, “Best Makeup” and “Best Original Score.”
The final diary entry by Frida Kahlo read, “I hope the end is joyful – and I hope never to return,” Frida.
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