Editorial Feature

Looking at Frida Kahlo As A Global Icon

Cristina Kahlo, Frida's great-niece, discusses what the artist's legacy means to her

Like many artists, recognition and appreciation of Frida Kahlo's work grew momentum only after her death in July 1954. As a result, we miss out on the opportunity to dissect the artist's work with the artist herself, to ask her the questions that remain unanswered and see what she'd create using today's landscape as her backdrop.

The iconic status the artist has gained posthumously is ultimately a good thing, but is there is a tendency for us to separate Frida from the legacy she's left and not fully appreciate the groundbreaking work she created?

Here we speak to Cristina Kahlo, the artist's great-niece, who shares her thoughts on "Fridamania", the importance of not separating her image from her work and what her legacy means to her.

Frida Kahlo painting (From the collection of Colección y Archivo de Fundación Televisa)

How and why do you think Frida earned her iconic status around the world?

Frida Kahlo has become an icon of the people because of her unique personality and her multifaceted life. She has become a standard-bearer for women's inner strength, for a love of Mexico and its culture, and for courage in the face of adversity. Above all, she was a genuine woman who was true to her convictions.

What are your thoughts on "Fridamania"? How would you describe the public's perception of Frida?

"Fridamania" has come about because of how women in particular identify with one or more aspects of the painter's life. Unfortunately, in many cases, Frida Kahlo is known only for the anecdotal part of her life and is recognized as a personality, while her more important side – her artistic legacy – is often overlooked.

Frida Kahlo on the patio of the Blue House (From the collection of Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Should her image be separated from her work? What is the difference between Frida the person and her paintings?

Frida Kahlo's work is autobiographical; her life and her work are one and the same. Her work as a painter reflects her feelings and thoughts. It's impossible to talk about her work without mentioning her life.

What are your thoughts on Frida's admirers appreciating certain aspects of her, and focusing solely on her personal style, her feminist stance, or her political ideas?

I think everyone has the right to admire Frida Kahlo for the aspects they identify with the most. Personally, I think her artwork is the most important thing, since all facets of her life are reflected in it. It would be important for anyone who admires her as a person to get to know her work.

Untitled (Self-portrait with thorn necklace and hummingbird) by Frida Kahlo (From the collection of Harry Ransom Center)

As part of Frida's family, how have your feelings towards her as an artist developed?

As part of the Kahlo family, my feelings towards her are the same as those I have towards other members of my family who have been an example to me: respect and affection.

My thoughts about her as an artist are wide-ranging, but my admiration for her work is mainly due to the fact that she was a groundbreaking figure in Mexican art. In regards to her being a Mexican woman, I admire her because she was genuine and true to her beliefs.

Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States by Frida Kahlo (From the collection of Detroit Institute of Arts)

What does Frida's legacy mean to you?

For me, the legacy comes from Guillermo Kahlo, Frida's father. Despite being born in Germany, he became a naturalized Mexican citizen because of his love for Mexico, and was passionate about art, literature, and music. He was a great influence on Frida Kahlo and on those of us in the Kahlo family who are devoted to art and culture.

On the whole, Frida Kahlo's legacy has brought Mexican art international recognition and acted as a stimulus which, together with the beauty of our country, has increased people's interest in visiting Mexico from abroad and learning more about our culture.

How can people ensure that Frida and her work continue to be iconic?

Frida Kahlo's work already has a very clear and very well-defined place within the history of Mexican art, just as her work and her identity are recognized around the world. Frida's work will forever be iconic, but we should study her paintings and extensive iconography, and distance ourselves from products which undermine and distort her image.

Frida Kahlo at her home in Coyoacan, Mexico (From the collection of Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution) 
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