Herstories and How-to’s: Frida Kahlo

Confession time, my friends- Aside from any altruistic motives of spreading stories of female badassery, empowering youth, etc.- my main reason for taking on the task of a monthly blog post was to push myself to find new and interesting champions for my own selfish edification and enjoyment. Because of this, I’ve tried to stay away from those ladies whose names are always at the tip of my tongue (Eva Hesse, I’m looking at you.). Recently, though, a friend asked about a photograph,”Why is Frida Kahlo painting in bed here?”. I realized, (after word-vomiting) that while there are certainly women whose names and work we recognize, that doesn’t mean their stories are as well known as their names, or that these stories are any less deserving of being shared and celebrated.

All of which is to say, I’ve held out as long as I can- This month we’re going to get REAL with my girl, Frida Kahlo

The deer, the dress, the flowers, the confidence, I CAN’T EVEN. (via Nicholas Murray.)

Frida’s life was short, but she lived it to the absolute fullest. As such, there’s a lot that’s already been written about Frida (there’s even a movie by Julie Taymor!), and a lot more that could be written (Love! Romance! Communism and international espionage!). Fantastical details and monkeys aside, what makes Frida my absolute favorite, in addition to her complexity and her passion, is her brutal honesty. Frida managed to create nearly 200 paintings and fill a diary with stories and pictures from her life in a way that feels simultaneously true and mythical, and somehow never once seems like navel-gazing. She looked upon herself and her life and those around her, and spared no unpleasant detail.

She was also incredibly witty and poetic, and absolutely quotable. So, rather than try to tell you everything about everything in Frida’s life as I see it, here, in her own words and images is the lady herself:

 “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.”

My Birth. Magdalena Carmen Freida Kahlo y Calderón (aka Frida Kahlo) was born on the outskirts of Mexico City. Though she was officially born on 7/6/1907, she frequently gave her birthday as 7/6/1910 to coincide with the Mexican Revolution. I like to believe that this was not only because she loved her modern Mexico with a passion, but also because believed in the power of a really good Origins Story. (via)

 “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

Girl with a Death Mask. At age 6, Frida contracted polio. Though she lived, she struggled with repercussions of the disease all of her life, including a right leg smaller than her left leg. Rather than convalesce, her father encouraged her to take up sports to regain strength. She became a tomboy, playing games usually not for girls, including bicycling, boxing, swimming and wrestling. (via)

“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the train the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”

Diego and I. From the beginning, Frida and the famous muralist, Diego Rivera were a strange match that seemed fated to happen. He was nearly twice her age, big where she was small and both had notorious tempers. They met in 1922, while Rivera was working on a mural in the gym of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City. As one of only 35 female students in the prestigious school, Frida already stood out. The 14 year old, who Diego would later describe as having ‘fire in her eyes’ teased and pranked and watched as he worked. Years later they would remeet and fall in love over painting.  Through illness, injury, revolution and detractors on all sides, Frida continued to paint and to love Diego The two divorced once, married twice and both had numerous open affairs. Still, they remained inseparable until her death in 1954. (via)
The Bus. The ‘train’ refers to a horrific accident in 1925, in which the bus that 18 year-old Frida was on crashed into a trolly car. Frida’s serious injuries included a broken spinal column, a crushed and dislocated right foot and many internal injuries as a metal pole pierced her abdomen through her uterus. Though she defied doctors, who thought she would never live, let alone walk, Frida suffered repercussion of the crash for the rest of her life. She underwent 35 surgeries, endured numerous (dubious) rehabilitation devices and exercises and was in near constant pain. Still, “Diego was by far the worst.” (via)

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”

Without Hope. After the accident, Frida spent 3 months recovering and bedridden. While in bed, Frida began to paint as a way to occupy herself. Her father lent her paint and brushes, while her mother had a special easel made and found a mirror so that Frida could paint herself. Though Frida had periods of improved health where she was able to stand and to walk, she was frequently bedridden and when she was bedridden she was painting. She even used paint to decorate the numerous casts and braces she had to wear. Once, when hospitalized and told she could no longer have paint in her room (for health reasons), Frida continued to work, using iodine and lipstick. (What’s your excuse for not making art today- is it because you’re bedridden? Or because you have no paint? FRIDA UP.) (via).
Frida painting at the bed easel as illustrated in the previous painting.. (via)

They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Tree of Hope Remain Strong. From the beginning, Frida seemed less interested in her ‘career’ as an artist and more interested in painting as a way to tell her story, to find/have a voice and to work through all the STUFF of her life. As abstraction and abstract expressionism continued to gain popularity, Frida continued to do whatever the hell she wanted, blending bright colors from Indigenous Mexican traditions, religious imagery and knowledge of her studies in anatomy zoology (before the accident, Frida had ambitions of becoming a doctor) and above all ,her own unpolished image. (via)
As a result of the injuries sustained during that trolly crash, Frida was unable to give birth. She would struggle with several miscarriages and one medically necessary abortion before finally letting go of having a child. As with everything else in her life, Frida dealt with these feelings through painting. Henry Ford Hospital, painted in 1932, shows the very real physical and emotional upheaval she felt at after one of these abortions, at a time when women’s reproductive health were most certainly not discussed. (via)

 

The most important thing for everyone in Gringolandia is to have ambition and become ‘somebody,’ and frankly, I don’t have the least ambition to become anybody.

Self Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the USA. After they were married, Frida went with Diego as he pursued his career as a mural painter, including several trips around the United States. For many reasons, including miscarriages, communist leanings, and a deep unwavering love for her homeland (so different from industrial America)- Frida was not exactly a fan of the U.S., or ‘Gringolandia.’ (via)

“I am nauseated by all these rotten people in Europe – and these fucking “democracies” are not worth even a crumb.”

The Frame. In 1939, Frida went to Paris at the invitation of Andre Breton, where she was featured in an exhibition at a little place called, The Louvre. The Louvre bought this painting- their first purchase of work by a 20th century Mexican artist. Frida gave zero fucks. (via)

“My paintings are well-painted, not nimbly but patiently. My painting contains in it the message of pain. I think that at least a few people are interested in it. It’s not revolutionary. Why keep wishing for it to be belligerent? I can’t. Painting completed my life. I lost three children and a series of other things that would have fulfilled my horrible life. My painting took the place of all of this. I think work is the best.”

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth, Mexico, Me, Diego and Mr. Xolotl.  In case you’re wondering, Mr. Xolotl is Frida’s Dog, seen in the Right hand of the universe. (via)

 

” Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?

in 1953, Frida’s already poor health declined further. Eventually her right leg, which had caused her pain since the accident over 25 years previously had to be amputated. Afterwards, in true ‘thumb your nose at fate’-Frida-fashion, Friday drew and wrote the above in her diary. (via.)

 “I hope the exit is joyful and i hope never to return.”

Viva la Vida, the last painting Frida Kahlo was to ever make. Not long after finishing it, she died, officially, of a pulmonary embolism. Some people believe she took her own life, though no autopsy was performed. The above quote was written just a few days before her death. (via)

 

Frida Kahlo embodied so many qualities worth emulating- honesty, passion, confidence, patience and a love of witty, dirty jokes. She was also spot on when it came to wearing whateverthehell she wanted and looking awesome. 3 piece men’s suit? CHECK. A million rings? GET IT. Live animals? WHY NOT. One of her most iconic accessories were her incredible headdresses.  As seen in this sweet video, these were often made out of her own hair and flowers. If you would like to borrow some Frida-style but have short hair, are lazy (or in my case, both) have no fear! You have a couple of options:

  • Rookiemag has a great video tutorial on how to make what they call (and what I will now forever refer to as) ‘flower crowns’
  • If you happen to find yourself in desperate need for instant Frida-power and no access or time for hot gluing, make a daisy chain!
    Gather your materials. Any plant will do- you just want to make sure the stem is soft enough you can pierce it easily, but strong enough it won't fall to pieces. Also, don't use anything that's going to give you hives. Make art, not hives.
    First, gather your materials. Any plant will do- you just want to make sure the stem is soft enough you can pierce it easily, but strong enough it won’t fall to pieces. Also, don’t use anything that’s going to give you hives. Make art, not hives.
    Using your thumbnail, make a small slit in the middle of the stems of your flora of choice.
    Using your thumbnail, make a small slit in the middle of the stems of your flora of choice.
    Thread another flower through the slit you just made and repeat as desired. Feel free to use more than one flower per slit, or to vary the direction. The goal here is a high concentration, especially in the middle.
    Thread another flower through the slit you just made and repeat as desired. Feel free to use more than one flower per slit, or to vary the direction. The goal here is a high concentration, especially in the middle.
    To get the Frida-look, only make the chain as long as the top of your head. Once you're done, you can either bobby pin the stems right over your ears. Find animals to pose with and go face the world FIERCEly.
    To get the Frida-look, only make the chain as long as the top of your head. Once you’re done, you can either bobby pin the stems right over your ears. Find animals to pose with and go face the world head on.

Frida Kahlo seems to have emerged from the womb dead-set on being a badass. She leaned into the chaos of her life and embraced passionately all the parts of who she was, even those which caused her pain. Let’s all do the same and know that she was talking to us when she said,

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

via.

¡Viva la vida! ¡Viva Frida!

 

 

Sources

http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/52760.Frida_Kahlo

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/frida-kahlo-70745811/?no-ist=&page=2

http://www.fridakahlo.com/

http://www.frida-kahlo-foundation.org/biography.html

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/05/22/diego-rivera-frida-kahlo-meeting/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frida_Kahlo

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