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Frida - A life story



Compiled by: Jack Foley

BORN in Mexico City on July 6, 1907, Frida Kahlo led a life affected by ill health from an early age. At six, she was stricken with polio, which caused her right leg to appear much thinner than the other. It remained that way permanently.

Then in September 1925, she was involved in the debilitating accident which changed her life when the bus she was travelling on with longtime friend, Alejandro Gomez, collided with a tram, killing several people and seriously injuring many others.

Frida was found, half naked, among the wreckage, bathed in blood and gold dust, and impaled on a metal rod. Her spinal column, ribs, pelvis and collarbone were shattered, her right foot was crushed and her right leg, crippled years earlier by polio, was broken in a dozen places.

A metal rod entered through her left hip and exited through her vagina, causing a deep abdominal wound and leaving her unable to have children.

Months of painful, expensive surgery followed. Her physical convalescence included several immobilizing plaster casts and corsets, traction and often barbaric experimental operations.

But much of Frida’s misery came from the severe isolation and loneliness of her devastating condition and she passed her time pouring out her feelings through painting.

Her photographer father, Guillermo, and mother, Matilde, sold practically all they owned to finance the countless operations but, despite their dire financial situation, they did all they could to support Frida’s newfound interest in painting, and presented her with a specially constructed easel, as well as fitting her canopy bed with a mirror, so she could be her own model.

Once she was able to walk again, Frida decided to visit the renowned artist, Diego Rivera, for a professional critique. The meeting has been credited as the defining moment in both their lives.

For Frida, Diego’s encouragement was paramount in her artistic evolution even though, in later life, she was quoted as saying: "I have suffered two big accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar ran over me; the other being Diego."

Nevertheless, the two married in Coyoacan on August 21, 1929, in spite of disapproval from her mother, who saw Diego’s 21-year age difference, his well-known philandering and his obesity as problems.

In 1930, Diego was commissioned to paint murals in America and travelled to San Francisco, Detroit and New York. During this trip, Frida discovered she was pregnant and decided to risk having the baby, although she was later to suffer a miscarriage.

It was during this time, when she longed to return to Mexico, that she produced the paintings, Henry Ford Hospital, Self Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States and My Dress Hangs There (New York).

Frida did return, briefly, to Mexico, following the death of her mother, only to find her sister had fallen into a state of depression, having left her husband.

Though she wanted to stay in Mexico, she was compelled to return to New York, where Diego was waging a world-renowned battle with Nelson Rockefeller, over whether to remove a portrait of Lenin from a mural in the Rockefeller Centre.

When Diego refused, he was fired and the mural was destroyed.

Diego and Frida returned to Mexico in December 1933 and moved into a house in San Angel. The new home comprised twin houses, joined by a bridge. But Diego’s depression and anger over America got worse and he began an affair with Frida’s sister, the discovery of which resulted in separation.

Diego eventually returned to Frida, however, asking her to help make a home for exiled Russian leader, Leon Trotsky, in January 1937. Trotsky remained with them for two years, during which time he had an affair with Frida.

His departure prompted Frida to strike out on her own and she eventually travelled to Paris, when the Louvre purchased one of her paintings, Self-Portrait (The Frame) 1938. It was the first painting of any Latin American artist to hang in the French museum.

However, Parisian life bored her and she again longed for a return to Mexico and to Diego, only to find that he wanted a divorce.

As a result, Frida’s health deteriorated rapidly but she painted what many consider to be her finest works, including The Two Fridas (1939), The Dream or The Bed (1940) and Two Nudes In the Forest (1940).

When Trotsky was assassinated, Frida was questioned by police, and her poor health worsened. Her toes gangrened and were amputated. She underwent more operations on her back, developing kidney infections and other complications.

She was hung upside down and corseted in steel. At each turn, she focused on her painting.

Diego eventually returned with a proposal of re-marriage and the two did so in December 1940. Frida then returned to her parent’s Pink House and painted it cobalt blue, renaming it the Blue House, as it is known today.

More operations and hospitalisation followed, but Diego remained with her during a nine-month hospitalisation in 1950 and the amputation of her right leg in 1953.

Finally, on the night of July 12, 1954, ill with pneumonia, Frida called Diego to her bedside and presented him with his 25-year anniversary gift - an antique ring - although the landmark event was still two weeks away. She passed away in her sleep that night, a week after her 47th birthday.

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