Forever Frida: Wings to Fly
Feminism is everything. It is a movement, an idea, and an experience. It’s a feeling + quality embodied by forward-thinking individuals even before it was labeled, “fashionable.” Feminism is infinite, and Frida Kahlo is feminism personified. As the celebration of Women’s History Month and the iconic inspirations behind our BRWNGRLMGC collection continues, this week, we are excited to introduce to some and reacquaint with others the brilliant painter + poet that is Frida Kahlo.
Beauty Born of Pain
On July 6, 1907, Guillermo Kahlo and Matilde Calderón y González welcomed the birth of their third daughter, Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón, in Mexico City, Mexico. As a child, Frida was diagnosed with polio; she recovered from the illness but suffered damage to her right leg and foot that left her with a slight limp when she walked. Kahlo’s father, a German photographer, encouraged her to swim, wrestle + play soccer to assist in her recovery. In doing so, he also inspired her to push past the boundaries of society, since these activities were virtually off limits to girls at that time.
Not one to give up, Frida triumphed tragedy again in 1925, when she survived a bus collision that fractured her spine and pelvis and required her to undergo at least 30 medical operations in her lifetime. Just three years before her accident, at the age of 15, she entered the National Preparatory School in Mexico City. She was one of just a handful of women who attended, and she showed promising interests in medicine and politics. Following her accident, she spent weeks recovering at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City before returning home to recuperate further.
During her downtime, Frida taught herself to paint. With the help of her father, the photographer, she developed strong attention to detail. Her first serious painting, Self-Portrait Wearing a Velvet Dress, was complete in 1926 – just one year later. She maintained an interest in politics, celebrating heroes of the Mexican Revolution in her 1927 painting, Pancho Villa and Adelita. Through adversity, an iconic artist was unearthed.
True To Herself
In 1929, Kahlo married fellow artist, Diego Rivera; the two had met seven years earlier when Rivera was commissioned to create a mural at the National Preparatory School’s Lecture Hall. Rivera encouraged Kahlo’s artwork, and she often traveled with him to the locations in which he was contracted to complete murals. During the early years of their marriage, they traveled to New York City and lived in San Francisco, California. They later moved to Detroit for Rivera’s engagement with the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Kahlo’s technique as an artist expanded alongside her view of the world. Her portrait, Frieda and Diego Rivera in 1931, highlighted the changes in her personal and painting styles. After suffering a miscarriage in Detroit, she painted some of her more traumatic works: Henry Ford Hospital and My Birth in 1932. In 1933, Kahlo and Rivera returned to Mexico, inhabiting a unique living space constructed of two separate homes adjoined by a bridge.
The individuality of both Kahlo and Rivera was apparent in their marriage, although for most of the union, Kahlo was recognized mainly as Rivera’s wife. This changed in 1938; however, when Kahlo presented a major exhibition at a New York City gallery and sold half of the 25 paintings on display there. She received two commissions as a result of the show and moved to Paris in 1939. There, she became friends with Pablo Picasso and exhibited more of her artwork. She divorced Rivera the same year. They remarried in 1940.
To Infinity and Beyond
In 1943, Frida was appointed a professor of painting at La Esmeralda, the Education Ministry’s School of Fine Arts in Mexico. Her popularity grew as an artist, but she continued to suffer with chronic health conditions. She underwent several surgeries in the 1940s and in the early 1950s, but she continued to produce numerous self-portraits displaying her unwavering gaze for which she was widely known.
She was bedridden as her first solo exhibition in Mexico began in 1953, but she refused to let this stop her from attending. In true Frida fashion, she persevered through her pain and arrived at the exhibition by ambulance. By all accounts, she spent the evening celebrating with attendees and friends. She died in La Casa Azul one year later; the documented cause was a pulmonary embolism.
In 1958, the Frida Kahlo Museum opened to the public. The feminist movement of the 1970s revitalized interest in her life’s story and artwork. The Diary of Frida Kahlo + The Letters of Frida Kahlo were both published in 1995. She remains one of the most well-known artists of the 20th century.
Frida Kahlo is remembered not only for her resilient spirit and iconic self-portraits, but also for her influence as a feminist and her inspiring words about life. She is the muse behind the Pear Nova shade Frida Be Free + a testament to what tenacity can help us accomplish.
"At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”