Portrait of Frida Kahlo on the patio of the Blue House, Coyoacán, Mexico (195-?) by Florence ArquinArchives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Frida Kahlo is celebrated for many things outside of her artistic talent. One aspect of her life and character that has brought about waves of admiration and adoration, is her openness around female sexuality. Her modern attitudes towards sexuality and her ability to openly explore them within her life and work have solidified her status as an icon among artists in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Her ideas surrounding sexuality wove themselves into her art in various ways and led her to explore themes of infertility, sexual pleasure and her tumultuous relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera. Outside of her work, her attitude towards love was refreshing—she disregarded the limitations of gender and instead let herself be attracted to the creative spirits of both men and women.
Untitled (Self-portrait with thorn necklace and hummingbird) (1940) by Frida KahloHarry Ransom Center
While Kahlo’s was still a rare example of open Queerness at the time, this isn’t the only reason why she has become an icon within the LGBTQIA+ community.
To explore the impact she has had, we speak to three contemporary artists who discuss what drew them to Frida, how she became an icon in their eyes and why she remains so relevant today.
Orange by Julio Salgado by Julio Salgado
Julio Salgado, California, USA
Juilio Salgado is an undocumented, queer “artivist” and his art sees him depict key individuals and moments of the DREAM Act and migrant rights movement. Undocumented students and allies across the USA have used Salgado’s artwork to call attention to the youth-led movement.
I first saw Frida's work in 1996, when I was enrolled in this 7th grade art class after I moved to Long Beach, California from Mexico. I was a 12-year-old confused, gay, brown boy who didn't want to live in the US and I remember seeing her Las Dos Fridas piece and totally changing my life. I didn't fully understand the depth of Frida's work at that time, but something about that piece moved me to pursue a creative path in my life.
Purple by Julio Salgado by Julio Salgado
I think it was the way that she was able to translate pain and to just put it out in the world as a form of therapy. I definitely use art as therapy, especially given the times that we are living in.
When I create a piece about being undocumented or queer after seeing the news, I just put this anger and pain in my work and just let it go. It's so therapeutic.
Because Frida Told Me So by Julio Salgado by Julio Salgado
Lately, I've been creating work that brings me happiness. Although there are many pieces of Frida that show pain, there are many self-portraits where she is surrounded by things she enjoyed. I think that as immigrant artists, we are expected to constantly create things that we are against, which is understandable. But I am taking a note from Frida's art book and I am creating work inspired by the music that I listen to, the movies that I am watching, the sitcoms that I am re-watching.
Frida was totally an LGBTQ icon! I mean, her relationship with singer Chavela Vargas as described by the late singer was so beautiful. But unfortunately, it wasn't until her death that others began to recognize her as a queer icon. So, while I love Frida, I also want to make sure and follow and support the art of queer artists of color who are still alive. Artists like Aurora Guerrero, Lena Waithe, Big Freedia, Yosimar Reyes and Sonia Guinansaca are just a few of the many queer artists of color who are making amazing and exciting art and they're being praised while they're still alive. Our ways were definitely paved by queer ancestors like James Baldwin, Audre Lorde and Frida herself.
As queer artists we have definitely made her an icon. Personally, when I discovered her work, I was very confused about my sexuality… I mean, I was only 12 years old, but I knew there was something about me that was different. Her work has definitely helped many of us see ourselves reflected in her work and in the writings that she left behind.
Her work is very relevant today because art is the way that we get to own our queer narratives. Whether it’s a painting, a film, a book, it is important that we challenge the ideas of who we are as queer people. Frida, and other queer artists of color specifically, did this a long time ago and we must continue and honor that tradition.
Everyone Can Be Frida by Camila Fontenele de Miranda by Camila Fontenele de Miranda
Camila Fontenele de Miranda, São Paulo, Brazil
A native of São Paulo, Camila Fontenele de Miranda works on deeply personal projects that explore themes we can all relate to. Her project, Everyone Can Be Frida, saw her transform 6,000 strangers into the artist so that they could embody her strength.
I first heard about Frida in art class at college. I fell in love with the colors, but then I felt a strong, almost spiritual connection between us. One of her paintings that most attracted me was The Broken Column. Her work talks to me in a very intimate way.
Frida taught me and inspired me to seek my sense of self in this world. I used to spend time reading a lot about her life and work, until the moment I plucked up the courage to make something inspired by her.
Everyone Can Be Frida, Pair by Camila Fontenele de Miranda by Camila Fontenele de Miranda
In terms of my own work I always reflect on the question: “Who am I besides my money, besides my surname, besides my house, besides my clothes, besides my college and prizes? What is left over?” I also ask that question mentally to the people I photograph. The process is a game where I invite the other to dress another.
My work involves people and investigations around human relations. It's lovely (and painful) to get to the borders of yourself. In my project Everyone can be Frida I try to provoke every possibility by mixing something with other things that are unusual or maybe hidden within ourselves. Therefore, any feeling felt by my subjects is valid, because in the end I'm just a part of the process – I'm helping the person being photographed to face themselves.
To me, an icon is a person we identify with and even become a bit obsessive about. It’s difficult for me to explain, but it’s someone who is both a part and separate from us. For me this is Frida Kahlo, she has many layers.
Everyone Can Be Frida, Woman by Camila Fontenele de Miranda by Camila Fontenele de Miranda
Often an artist's art or persona only gains status later. I believe Frida’s relevance today, in Brazil, exploded in the middle of 2013. Since then, that she has been studied in schools, groups, is an inspiration for feminist collectives and artists—like me.
In addition to the range of possibilities that an artist like Frida Kahlo gives us, there's so much to discuss about the artist and the subjects brought up in her work including: sexuality, genre, language, that life is not separate from work, human relations, and so on.
Soledad & Lily by Raychelle Duazo by Raychelle Duazo
Raychelle Duazo, Seattle, USA
Raychelle Duazo is a queer femme Filipina-American visual artist from the Pacific Northwest. Artistically, her specialities include portraits, comics, and typography. Her work focuses on themes of love, heartbreak, loss, memory, identity, and place.
I first came into contact with Frida Kahlo's work during high school. A Language Arts teacher introduced me to Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera. I remember being particularly drawn to the fact that she just portrayed herself in practically all of her pieces in some fashion, but my favorite pieces of hers include: The Two Fridas, My Dress Hangs There, The Little Deer, Moses Nucleus of Creation and Love's Embrace of the Universe. I have a lot more favorites.
When getting to know her paintings, her work felt like pages from a diary, but visualized. I remember going through a lot at the time of discovering her work, and I wondered a lot to myself: "Where can I find my own creative outlet? Can I be just as brave?" and realizing that I felt scared to make work as vulnerable and jarring as hers. But you could tell her work was so emotional, painful, complex, layered. Every time you thought you had a piece figured out, you'd find something new to dissect about it. Her emotional depth translated so well to painting.
KAHITano by Raychelle Duazo by Raychelle Duazo
I love Frida's self-portraits and the very structural composition found in all of her pieces. I don't think it's a coincidence that I specialize in portraits myself, and I find myself really intrigued by the composition of a piece: how to center the focal point and compose and place things around that focal point. It's exciting and challenging, and when a piece is finished, I feel satisfied with the balance created through good structure. I know her work influenced so much, if not most, of that.
Other than Frida's work, I'd say that my work is influenced by a plethora of sources: character design in video games, flowers and nature, fashion, my own personally lived experiences, comic books, a desire for representation and visibility, and music. My own work has bold lines, vibrant colors, flowers throughout, and thought out compositions. I also draw a lot of inspiration from Filipino culture, Islander culture, and my own queerness.
Leola by Raychelle Duazo by Raychelle Duazo
I think anyone who loves Frida and her work would recognize her as queer, though I can't imagine that she'd want to be described as an "icon" of anything. However, I do appreciate that one of my favorite artists is also queer, and this part of her identity I'd imagine really influenced how she navigated her world and created her art. It seems that Frida was known for having really strong opinions, and I can imagine her speaking and acting with so much conviction, she would be really critical of anyone mislabeling any part of her identity.
Frida was known for being defiant, militant, opinionated, vulnerable, brash, and abrasive, and I think those aspects of her attitude, contrasted with her disabilities and talent as a painter, made her a very real example of someone who moved through different roles and carried a lot of different identities. Her complexities made her very human, intriguing, and powerful, and her paintings are just extensions of those complexities. People can see and feel that in her work.