Me Twice - Five reasons to Celebrate Frida Kahlo
"Me Twice" is the portent moniker Frida Kahlo used to describe one of her largest and most celebrated paintings, "The Two Fridas" (Las dos Fridas), on display at the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. The ferocity of her spirit has outlived a short mortal life; she died at the young age of 47. Frida continues to experience a rennaissance in today's culture, fashion and the art world.
Since her death, Frida has become an icon of feminism, for Chicanos and a heroine to the LBGTQ community. Kahlo's artistic reputation didn't grow until later in her life, once overshadowed by the recognition received by her famous husband, muralist, Diego Rivera. Though, since the 1970's; a type of Fridamania has grown.
She is now considered "one of the most instantly recognizable artists". Her life and art have inspired a variety of merchandise and are the subject of various films. Writings about her have far surpassed the 80 plus publications stated in a 1995 Vanity Fair article.
On this week following her birthdate of July 6, 1907; there are countless reasons to celebrate Frida. Her courage, inventive style, respect for her roots, activism and unapologetic love dominated her short mortal life. She responded to obstacles with a lack of inhibition and, at times, audacity. This bold, fearless, magical realist leaves a legacy that continues to inspire me and others.
One art critic said of her:
“Frida has been carved up into little pieces. Everyone pulls out that one piece that means something special to them."
In spite of, or maybe because of, the ravages caused by polio in childhood and the violence of a debilitating spinal injury from a tram accident as a young adult; Frida defiantly used the years of her life, turning it into a living and enduring work of art.
Hayden Herrera, author of the 1983 biography Frida wrote,
“Her paintings demand—fiercely—that you look at her.”
We're still looking.
When tragedy struck, courage rose; Frida didn't allow her physical body to limit her. The evolution of her life involved acts of reinvention, reconstruction and transformation. The tram accident disrupted her plans to attend medical school so, she renewed her childhood interest in painting.
Remaining true to a sense of self, Frida employed an inventive style to focus exclusively on what made her different. She solved functional problems through fashion; employing creativity to design her corsets and construct her wardrobes to hide physical impairments.
It's likely she sported her characteristic mustached, mischievous grin while she drew “Las Apariencias Engañan,” or “Appearances Can Be Deceiving”, and revealed a view of what lies beneath. Frida was bold, and unflinchingly honest, but she enjoyed a maintaining sense of mystery. Shown below is her naked body surrounded by the silhouette of the Tehuana dress.
The pride she had for her Mexican homeland and heritage were woven throughout her life both in her style and her politics. Circled above is Frida with her family in Mexican native dress of which her signature colorful clothing and accessories were reminiscent.
In the painting, "My Grandparents and I":
"Kahlo painted herself as a ten-year holding a ribbon that grows from an ancient tree that bears the portraits of her grandparents and other ancestors while her left foot is a tree trunk growing out of the ground, reflecting Kahlo's view of humanity's unity with the earth and her own sense of unity with Mexico."
Kahlo's appetite for indigenous attire and braided hair-styles grew after she met her husband Diego Rivera; visible in this painting from 1931. This style paid tribute to her Mexican roots and reflected a growing interest and support of socialist political beliefs. Frida was proud of her Mexicanidad, or Mexican cultural identity. The Mexicanidad movement claimed to resist the "mindset of cultural inferiority" created by colonialism, and placed special importance on indigenous cultures.
Life in Mexico City of the 1920's was a time of free expression. At that time Frida was teenager and became involved in the café scene joining groups of other young people who were discussing communism. This was when she met political activists who inspired her. During a party Kahlo met her future husband, Diego Rivera, a communist Mexican muralist. There was a part of her that believed that communism equaled community. She was an avowed Marxist-Leninist and a card-carrying member of the Mexican Communist Party even when it was dangerous to hold these views. Her beliefs became stronger as she grew older, even leaning further left to Stalinism.
A sense of activism also pervaded Frida's thoughts of relationships. She had affairs with many women throughout her life. An appreciation for females is expressed in a small painting titled “Dos desnudos en el bosque” or, “Two Nudes in the Forest”, featuring a two women in a tender embrace. Its sale in 2016 at Christie's auction house made history: selling for over $8 million and becoming the highest-selling Mexican painting ever to sell at auction and one of the highest-selling paintings by a female artist of all time.
Frida responded to life with a lack of inhibition and audacity. She has much to teach us about fully living and holds a place on my chosen family tree.