Frida Kahlo: ¡Viva la vida!

Museo Dolores Olmedo

“Feet? Why would I want them if I have wings to fly.” Frida Kahlo’s Diary, 1953

Little Frida
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón was born on July 6, 1907 in Mexico City, in the house that was owned by her parents since 1904. Today, the house is know as “La Casa Azul,” or “The Blue House.”

Her parents were Wilhelm Kahlo, of Hungarian-German ancestry, and Matilde Calderón, originally from Oaxaca.

At six years old, Frida suffered from polio, an illness that damaged her uterus and made her unable to have children. However, her shorter right leg did not prevent her from becoming a restless and tenacious student.

When Frida reached 11 months old, her mother gave birth to Cristina, the youngest daughter from the Kahlo-Calderón marriage. Because of that, Frida was entrusted to an indigenous woman who took care of her.

Years later, Frida recreated the event in a painting that she called “My nurse and I,” in which the artists is represented as part baby with an adult face. She is being held by her nanny, an indigenous woman whose face is covered by a Pre-Columbian mask.

The accident
When she was 18, on September 17th, 1925, Frida had a tragic accident. She was riding a bus that collided with a streetcar. The resulting consequences were very severe. She broke many bones and significantly damaged her spine. Frida frequently referred to the accident in her work. In this painting, entitled, “The Bus,” one can observe the people that rode this type of transportation. One can see an indigenous barefoot woman, a bourgeois person, and a young woman, who could represent Frida.

After the accident, Frida passed a lot of time in her bed. Her mother provided her with a portable easel and a box of paints.

One of the first portraits that Frida made was of Alicia Galant, one of her friends and neighbors in Coyoacán.

It was in high school that Frida first met Diego Rivera, when he was painting the mural, “The Creation” (1922) in the Simon Bolivar Amphitheater. Frida Kahlo approached Rivera to show him the paintings she made during her long convalescent period. Rivera, at the request of the young woman, said that her work showed talent and a sensitivity for painting. Then, the two began a relationship that grew until they united their lives in marriage in 1929.

On July 4th, 1932, Frida suffered a miscarriage in Detroit, after being under the supervision of her doctors who told her that if she spent long periods of time in bed, she could carry the pregnancy to term. However, her body was not able support the pregnancy, and she was finally taken to the Henry Ford Hospital, where the miscarriage that had started in her house ended. “Henry Ford Hospital” is the first painting for which Frida used a metal sheet as a canvas, in the style of the Mexican altarpieces.

Frida Kahlo's life was strongly characterized by introspection and reflection of her emotions. We know that the physical and emotional pain were constant sources of inspiration and relief for the artist. A notable example of these themes is one of her most famous self-portraits: “The Broken Column ” (1944).

In it, Frida is shown standing, half naked, her body open from the neck to the belly, showing through the great wound a classical Ionic column with numerous fractures in the shaft. This creates an ingenious allegory of her greatest tragedy: her own broken spine.

The pain is accentuated by the tears on her face and the nails that penetrate her skin, among which a huge nail stands out, buried in the place of the heart.

In 1934, Frida soon discovered the affair between Diego Rivera and her sister Cristina Kahlo. Some consider that the production of the work “A Few Small Nips” relates to this affair, where you can see her obvious black sense of humor.

Several self-portraits featured Frida accompanied by her favorite animals, which replaced the presence of the children that she did not have. Sometimes they are spider monkeys, parrots or dogs. Such is the case of "Self Portrait with Small Monkey,” where she is portrayed in a three-quarter profile, dressed and coiffed in the way of indigenous people in Southeast Mexico.

She is linked to Lord Xolotl, which was what she called her itzcuintli dog. Behind, on the right, a surprised spider monkey looks towards the front; in the background, there is a pre-Columbian idol. The ribbon with which they are attached ends with her signature; the other end is threaded into a nail that pierces clouds before forming the background of the painting

The last years
At the end of her life, the artist’s health declined. In the last 10 years of her life, she wore more than 25 corsets.

“Viva la Vida” is a particularly important painting, as it was one of the last works Frida painted. Despite the deteriorating health of the artist, the title of the work is a tribute to life.

Credits: Story

Carlos Phillips Olmedo — Director general de los Museos Dolores Olmedo, Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli
Hilda Trujillo — Directora de los Museos Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli
Josefina García — Directora de Colecciones y Servicios Educativos del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Adriana Jaramillo — Directora de Comunicación y Relaciones Institucionales del Museo Dolores Olmedo
Patricia Cordero — Coordinadora de Difusión y Contenidos Digitales de los Museos Dolores Olmedo, Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli

Credits: All media
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