Frida Kahlo


1907, Mexico City, Mexico
1954, Mexico City, Mexico


Actively reinventing herself throughout her career, Frida Kahlo created potent representations of her identity, her native Mexico, and the historical epoch in which she lived. She explored these subjects in a deceptively naive manner, often drawing on folk art traditions. Many of her paintings merge depictions of the cosmos, the earth, and the body with the artist's immediate reality, permitting shockingly personal depictions of her physical and psychological pain to bleed into the iconography of Mexico's Aztec, colonial, and revolutionary history.

Kahlo's political responses to capitalism and industrial growth inform many of her early works. But it is a revaluing of the culture and ethos of indigenous Mexico, or Mexicanidad, that drives the entirety of her oeuvre. While visiting San Francisco in 1930 and 1931 with her husband, the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, her style moved from abroad, mural-like handling to a folkloric mode based on nineteenth-century Mexican portraiture. The pictures (mostly portraits) that Kahlo painted in San Francisco reveal her interest in nineteenth-century Mexican folk portraiture and popular art. In later self-portraits, she isolated her own image and surrounded herself with natural motifs such as animals and foliage. The works from the last years of her life reflect the increased intensity of her political views and her ongoing identification with nature, as seen in a series of still life paintings.

Through her relationships with Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, Kahlo was intimately familiar with Mexican mural painting and its grand ambitions, but she chose to follow a different artistic path. Her paintings form an organic and realist alternative to the austerity of Modernism and the more detached, dreamlike quality of Surrealism. Although she was called a Surrealist by André Breton, Kahlo culled her imagery from her own reality, a strategy that separated her paintings from those of the Surrealists. In an interview she once proclaimed, "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

Amalia Mesa-Bains discusses how Frida Kahlo represents something different to the women's movement than to the Chicana movement.

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