Monday, I’ve got Frida on my mind, and I’ll tell you why. You see, I’ve been thinking about Frida Kahlo and her paintings and the bravery with which she countered the many unbelievable difficulties in her life. Most of our problems are but very small potatoes when compared to the physical and emotional hardships Frida endured. The cards were really stacked against her. The likes of you and me have it easy by comparison.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, it all really started when Kahlo was involved in a near fatal road accident in 1925. The bus she was traveling on collided with a tram. Frida was impaled on an iron handrail, her pelvis, several ribs, legs, and collar bone were all fractured and three of her vertebrae were displaced. She was bedridden for several months as she recuperated. The fact is: her health never really fully recovered from the damage done, and Frida was in and out of hospitals for most of her life. Her original plans to study medicine at university were now impossible, but rather than give up and succumb to self-pity, Frida Kahlo recalibrated her ambitions and decided to become an artist. She said this was her chance “to begin again, painting things just as I saw them with my own eyes and nothing more.”
A mirror was placed on her bed, enabling Kahlo to paint her own portrait. She later said that she painted self-portraits because she was so often alone and “because I am the person I know best.” After her recuperation from her accident, Frida mixed with her old school friends. She became a communist and she met the artist Diego Rivera, whom she married in 1929. It was to be a tumultuous, passionate and painful relationship. Frida later said:
There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the tram, the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.
For his lack of looks, Rivera was apparently irresistible to women. He carried out several affairs during their marriage. In constant physical pain from the accident, Frida now suffered the devastating emotional pain caused by Diego’s serial philandering. The pair divorced in 1939 but remarried again in 1940.
For all the years dedicated to art, it wasn’t until the last years of her life that Frida had her first solo exhibition at the Galería Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico, in April 1953. It was thought she would be too ill to attend, but her four poster bed was installed in the gallery and Frida was taken by ambulance for the exhibition’s opening.
By this point, Frida was in constant agonizing pain. One leg was amputated due to gangrene and a series of different infections meant she underwent several operations. She also had to deal with the damage of another one of Diego’s affairs which led her to attempt suicide in 1953. Yet, Frida ultimately overcame these problems and decided it was best that she lived. She moved the focus of her art away from herself towards the greater more pressing issue of making the world a better place for everyone.
I must struggle with all my strength to ensure that the little positive my health allows me to do [work which] also benefits the Revolution, the only real reason to live.
In her final year, Frida produced work like “Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick” and “Frida and Stalin.” She died in July 1954. The last words she wrote in her journal were:
I joyfully await the exit—and I hope never to return—Frida
Looking at photographs of Frida Kahlo, I can’t help but marvel at her strong features and character. And also how she must have taken the time every morning to “prepare a face to meet the faces” as T.S. Eliot put it. Frida crafted her own image which she maintained like an artwork throughout her life. During her final years, many photographers visited Frida at her home in Mexico. Most of the following pictures were taken by Gisèle Freund who visited Frida and Diego in 1951. The two arresting B&W head portraits of Frida were taken by Marcel Sternberger in 1952. The color portrait of Frida in hospital holding a sugar skull was taken by Juan Guzmán circa 1951.
More photographs from Frida Kahlo’s final years, after the jump…