Updated: Feb 18
Artist Frida Kahlo was considered one of Mexico's greatest artists. She was best known for her uncompromising and brilliantly colored self-portraits that deal with such themes as identity, the human body, and death.
Kahlo also considered her image on precisely her own terms, celebrating her features – her Mexican identity, upper lip hair and that striking unibrow. “I am my own muse. The subject I know best. The subject I want to know better,” she famously declared. Kahlo's unibrow has become shorthand for: “I won't curb my self-expression to meet your expectations of how a woman should look.” Kahlo's unibrow is a statement rejecting stereotypes about what is and isn't attractive.
"Feet what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” - Frida Kahlo
She wanted to be a doctor
Before she began painting, Frida had a dream: to become a doctor. Her father was a photographer that piqued her interest in the arts from and early age. But this was always secondary to her desire to practice medicine. Frida was an excellent student but stricken by polio at the age of 6. This disrupted her childhood and made her unable to use part of her right leg. What's more, her right foot stopped growing. Her classmates nicknamed her "Frida la cola" or "Frida the gimp". Despite setbacks, Frida was admitted into a prestigious Mexican school at the age of 16. She was one of 35 accepted students out of 2,000 applicants.
A major accident changed her life
When Frida was 18, she was travelling with her boyfriend on a wooden bus when it collided with a streetcar. Frida was nearly killed in the crash when an iron handrail went into her hip and came out the other side. On top of this, she also broke her spinal column, collarbone, ribs, pelvis, right leg in 11 places, and dislocated her shoulder. Although she did eventually recover, she had to have 35 operations over her life to help with her spinal injuries, and she lived with chronic pain. Frida's long recovery was however when she did begin to paint. She would sit in her bed with an ease, mostly painting self-portraits by looking at herself in a mirror across the room.
In 1927 when Frida was 20, she had admired the work of famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera for many years. When she did eventually get to meet him, despite a 20-year age difference, the pair quickly fell for each other, leading Diego to leave his second wife and marry Frida in 1929. Frida's 10 year marriage with Diego was stormy with both having multiple affairs. Frida had affairs with both men and women. Diego even had an affair with Frida's younger sister Christina. They divorced in 1939 but remarried a year later. Although their second marriage was a troubled as the first, Frida remained married to Diego till death.
Politically engaged woman
In 1928, as her health gradually improved, Frida Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist party. Her country's politics were unstable at the time and she decided to make her contribution. IN 1937, she offered political asylum to the Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife. Her objectives were clear: she wanted to improve the condition of Mexican women. She fought for their emancipation. In a patriarchal society, she sought to be the voice of the oppressed women. She quickly took on the role of a "modern womanL and was no longer ashamed of her bisexuality.
Using painting as a means of conveying her political messages, she boldly advertised her anti-American stance in her Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States in 1932.
Her life was cut short
Just a few months after her gallery opening, Frida's health worsened, and her right leg was eventually amputated at the knee due to gangrene. She became depressed and anxious, and her dependency to painkillers worsened. In her last days, Kahlo had been mostly bedridden with bronchopnemumonia. Afterwards her illness worsened and that night she had a high fever and was in extreme pain. That night in 1954, Frida died in age 47. She is reported to have died from a pulmonary embolism, but some suggest she may have died through suicide or overdose.
She is now a famous feminist and icon
After her death, the rise of feminism in the 1970s led to Frida become a feminist and LGBTQUI icon. Her openness with her sexuality - she was bisexual - and her gender-neutral dress at times had made her an iconic figure in the LGBTQUI community. Her fierce pride in her Mexican roots have also made her a source of pride for many in her culture.