Art should be regarded as a spiritual experience for when you find a piece that you like, it is speaking to your soul. When I first met a Frida Kahlo, I was in a university class that had to do with Women in Art (I don’t recall the specific title). Our professor showed us a piece of her work and I asked the teacher if she had been in some type of an accident and explained what I saw in the photo of the painting. She told us a little about the history of Frida Kahlo and I felt stung. Until that moment, my experience was usually to look at paintings in a museum and admire them. While I had been to many art museums and had my favorites, I had never been this moved by art.
Since then, I have begun to look at art differently. I have begun to focus on the picture and think about the symbols, the way they are arranged, and what the artist might have felt. I have also seen the movie of Frida by Selma Hayek, read the biography by Hayden Herrera, had a friend copy a painting by Frida so that I could have my own genuine recreation and I have had friends give me books and old magazine articles that are about the artist and her paintings. When you research someone to this depth, you become one with the artist.
Frida Kahlo painted portraits and recreated interpretations of her life on canvas the way we journal in a diary now. The intensity of her work began after she was in a “bus” accident in Mexico at the age of 18. To explain, a bus in the 1920’s in Mexico was similar to a hay wagon with benches nailed along the sides. This old fashioned mechanism collided with a streetcar which threw her and others from the bus and caused her to have many almost fatal injuries. She spent much of her life in body casts, laid out on a bed. She also underwent many surgeries for this over the years before she died at 47. Frida was a survivor and from her bed she began to paint, not for the first time but in a new way.
The first opportunity she was able to get out of her bed, it was the same time that Diego Rivera, a well-known Mexican painter, was working on a mural nearby her home. They met and eventually married. Señor Rivera was known for his philandering but she knew this and asked, not for his fidelity but for his loyalty. He accepted. Their marriage was full of liaisons; hers with both men and women. They lived in two homes joined by a bridge so that each had their own space. Unfortunately, it was here where Señor Rivera went a bit too far with his affairs and slept with her sister Cristina. Between this and her on-going setbacks to give birth to their child, which her doctors had explained would be impossible; their marriage began to go downhill. They continued to remain together though, until her end.
Both Señora Kahlo and Señor Rivera, were very passionate about communism as well. This was incorporated in their art work depicting laborers in Mexico. Their beliefs were controversial, even then but they fought continuously to try and bring this philosophy to their country.
It is quite doubtful that Señora Kahlo and I would have been friends had we met during that time. When you are captivated by a piece of work, it is not about likes or dislikes of personal opinions. Art stands alone, though it captures that person’s beliefs and feelings, what you gain from this is not always going to be the same. I was intrigued by her work as a woman, as a survivor, her bravery, her determination and will. All of these qualities I saw on the canvas and all of these adjectives she would probably have brushed aside indignantly. People like this do not want accolades for anything except their work, not their essence of being.
What I became fascinated with, when I learned about Señora Kahlo’s history, was her homage to ancestry through her clothing. While she was both Hungarian and Mexican, she only knew of her Spanish cultural ways. Her father’s Hungarian parents immigrated to Germany before sending their son to Mexico as a young man. While in Mexico, he married her mother and never returned to his homeland. She only had an idea of what her grandparents looked like. The way Señora Kahlo dressed herself was not indicative of the times in Mexico and so when she travelled with her husband, it was often seen as odd or eccentric. Now it is how one would recognize her through photos, though her work is quite obvious once you have had the opportunity to view a few pieces. As a woman she made a statement. Quite literally she was a work to behold. A piece of art always in progress.
While travelling in Mexico, I noticed that far too many shopkeepers hold vigil to her in their windows; along with homage to their religious symbols as well. Even in America, many Mexican restaurateurs will display her reproductions around their diners. Frida Kahlo is a legend. If you have not had the chance to explore her work, I invite you to research the name and see where it leads you.