Around the blogosphere and Facebook, many are paying tribute to the artist, activist, feminist icon and chingona Frida Kahlo. Last year I remembered her anniversary. Today is her birthday.
Over a hundred years after her birth, Frida remains memorable. In addition to her art, much of this has to do with her honesty about emotional and physical pain, her activism, her love of country and her self identity as a woman. These are reasons to celebrate Frida’s birthday.
Frida Kahlo produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many of these, Frida replied:
“Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.”
Her honesty in her response is precisely why she is remembered. Similiar to her au naturel face of unplucked eyebrows and unshaven upper lip, this was a woman who was comfortable with her identity. What she highlighted in many photographs, was her indigenous and mestizo roots and the culture of Mexico.
This was a woman who lived a life in physical pain from several injuries and still painted.
“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.” *
She was a woman who lived a life marked by emotional pain and depression. Her beloved mother, Matilde Calderon, died of breast cancer. Her father, who encouraged her to paint after her horrible accident died of a heart attack. She had several miscarriages. Her husband, Diego Rivera, was infamously unfaithful.
“I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows, but now the damned things have learned to swim.” **
Frida was a ‘relatable’ artist. Carlos Fuentes, famed Mexican novelist said:
“Frida found a way of painting pain – of permitting us to see pain and in so doing, reflecting the pain of the world. … She is a figure that represents the conquest of adversity, that represents how – against hell and high water – a person is able to make their life and reinvent themselves and make that life be personally fulfilling… Frida Kahlo in that sense is a symbol of hope, of power, of empowerment…”
Frida’s philosophy of life was described just days before her death, in her still life, using the words Viva La Vida (Long Live Life).
This was a woman who took pain and depression, placed it on canvas along with her vision, and created beauty. It takes a strong woman to translate tragedy into beauty.
“It is not worthwhile,…to leave this world without having had a little fun in life.” ***
That, right there, sums it up. Happy Birthday Frida.
*Letter to Ella Wolfe, 1938, quoted in Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera In a footnote, Herrera writes that Kahlo had heard this joke from her friend, the poet José Frías.
**Quoted in Time Magazine, “Mexican Autobiography” (27 April 1953) a year before her death.
*** Smithsonian Magazine