March 2016: Revolutionary Women

Frida Kahlo: My Beautiful Revolution

When I heard this month’s theme at Zusterschap was Revolutionary Women, I knew there was only one person for me to write about. Frida Kahlo has been my muse since I first learned of her existence when I was at secondary school. Best known for her brutally honest and often remarkably painful self portraits, Frida Kahlo was an artist who found a voice and solace in her paintings for the many struggles in her life. To me, she was truly a revolution.

Kahlo was born on July 6 1907, but often told people she was born on July 7 1910, to coincide with the date the Mexican Revolution began. Politics was a huge part of her life from a young age: at 16 she joined a group of young intellectual bohemians called the ‘Cachuchas,’ who devoted themselves to literature, mischief and the bohemian lifestyle. She would later join the Young Communists League, a leftist political group which included many artists. The League was led by one of its founders, painter Diego Rivera, who later married Frida in 1929. Their marriage was passionate, and often fraught; a common cause of distress for Frida. Despite this, she loved Diego – who she affectionately nicknamed Panzòn, meaning “Fat Belly.”

Aged 18, Frida was involved in a tram accident that would change her life forever. The crash resulted in a huge amount of injuries, including a broken pelvis and spinal column. For a while, it was unclear as to whether she would survive. She was told by doctors that she may never walk again, and would never carry a baby to full term. The several months she spent in bed recovering from the accident were the several months when Frida began to paint. Prior to this, she had very little painting experience, and it was through the tragedy of her accident in which she found her muse. She said, “I never painted dreams, I painted my own reality”.
The accident had a huge impact on Frida’s self perception, particularly the injury that caused her inability to bear children. This can be seen in such paintings as “The Broken Column.

I love Frida because I truly believe that if ever there was a powerhouse of a person, it was her. There are many, many reasons why I believe she is amazing and revolutionary, but here are just a few of them:

She was fearless

From her passion for the revolution – she posed in 1928 to be painted by her future husband Diego Rivera as “Frida Kahlo Distributing the Weapons” in his mural “The Ballad of the Revolution” – to defeating the odds regarding her health – doctors told her she would never walk again after the accident – to her artwork, which became a source of comfort, an outlet for frustration and sadness, and a vessel for her deeply felt emotions both during her healing. Frida battled for what she believed in and used her creativity in a way that helped her best.

Her honesty

Even when the truth was painful, she embraced it in her artwork, forever merciless about what she had to say. It expressed brutal honesty about herself, her disabilities and her emotions.

She was a fighter

Frida endured a great amount of physical and emotional turmoil throughout her lifetime – from fighting polio as a child, to the tram accident which led to some 30 ongoing operations, and complications of the accident which led to 3 pregnancies ending in miscarriage. She lived with a debilitating disability, endured her husband cheating on her more than once (and on one occasion with her own sister), yet, Frida never gave up. She continued fighting and painting, and never let the fire in her soul be dulled.

She was unapologetic

Frida’s paintings gave an honest, brutal insight into what it meant to her to be a woman. Frida painted her experience with no shame or barrier; she painted from the heart, and never shied away from being true to herself, even through times of real hardship.

Although Frida’s work was only exhibited twice in her lifetime, it cannot be denied that she is one of the most important artistic influences of the 20th century. Although she was often associated with surrealist artists, she preferred to dismiss this label, instead relating more to the ideas of Mexican traditions and folklore. She was often depicted in her works as wearing traditional Mexican clothing and surrounded by symbols relevant to the Mexican culture. Her self portraits are often described as feminist explorations of sexuality, pain, violence and grief, and this is something which I feel is so important and resonates to this day within the realms of art, feminism, and self exploration.

Frida Kahlo, you lived through revolution, in revolution, as revolution.

– Sian Irv

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