The Complex Life of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo, full name Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, was a famous Mexican painter, most well-known for her many self-portraits, portraits of others, and artwork depicting nature. Kahlo was born in 1907 to photographer Guillermo Kahlo and her mother, Matilde Calderón y González, from whom she derives her secondary surname.
Kahlo is said to have had a sad childhood, with parents who were regularly sick and were not romantically interested in one another. Her father emigrated to Mexico from Germany when epilepsy ended his university studies, and her mother has been described as “calculating, cruel and fanatically religious” by Kahlo herself.
At the age of 6, Kahlo contracted the poliovirus, which caused her right leg to become shorter and thinner than her left. This alienated her at school, where she started later than other students, and she was often bullied. But this also bonded her with her father, through their shared experience of living with a disability.
Despite her disability, Frida fought against the odds to pursue her career of choice, medicine. Her dream was to become a physician, and through her academic success she was accepted to an elite high school that had only just started allowing women to attend. Our of 2,000 students, only 35 were female. It was here, at the National Preparatory School, that Kahlo began engaging with political activism and social justice.
In the following years, disaster struck as Kahlo was caught in an awful bus crash which saw an iron rail pierce her pelvis. In this same crash, she also broke her right leg in 11 places and her spine in 3 places, and was left with a crushed foot, a dislocated shoulder, and a broken collarbone and ribs. It was during her long recovery period that she began painting.
The awful injuries sustained during this accident prevented Frida from being able to continue with her dream of becoming a physician. Channelling her drive and passion into her newfound love of painting, she went on to create 150-200 paintings in her lifetime, gaining fame and acclaim with no formal training. Much of her work, such as famous piece Wounded Deer, was focused on expressing the chronic pain she lived in, while others depicted her self-portraits in a range of styles. Her work also expressed support for revolutionary politics, social justice, and LGBTQ+ rights. As a bisexual woman, Kahlo is considered an LGBTQ icon by many.