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Things We Can Learn from the Life of Frida Kahlo

Things We Can Learn from the Life of Frida Kahlo


I was reading (re-reading, actually) F.G. Haghenbeck’s book on Frida Kahlo and as her colourful, surreal and passionate world slowly but surely sucked me in I started thinking about why people like writing about her so much. She is everywhere these days. It would be impossible to count how many articles, poems, blog posts and who knows what more appear about her every day.

What is so interesting about her that has made her an inspiration for most female artists since the 1950s? Why do feminists think of her as an icon? Why is she such a huge pop culture icon that her face can be found on anything from mugs and T-shirts to tote bags and earrings?

I decided to start writing because I refuse to believe that there is a limit to what we can learn from her. Her life path, beginning with a debilitating accident and blossoming into a life full of creativity and love, provides the ideal backdrop against which to question what is most important in life. Would things have been different if she hadn’t been on that bus?

What I think is that even without the collision and the major injury, what was vital about the woman had already been there. She had a vivid personality and she was not bound by conservative social norms. She would sometimes wear suits and she was famously good at beating men at tequila challenges. She believed she could love whoever she wanted to, regardless of their gender – and so she did.

She wanted to experience everything to its fullest; she wanted to indulge in life itself.

No matter how much suffering she endured – and as we know, there was a lot of that, both emotional and physical – she somehow turned all the pain into something sublime and incomparable. That attitude towards all the things that happened to her – the ones that made her feel such bliss that she felt she could fly, and the ones that made her fall into such despair that most people wouldn’t be able to endure – that is the thing that made her significant and everlastingly inspirational.

 “Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.”

Frida Kahlo

Life has strange ways and it happened so that along with the physical pain that she had to live with everyday of her life, she found love in a man and this love both tortured her and gave her greater joy and happiness than anything or anyone ever. Would she have been able to produce the amazing paintings she did if it hadn’t been for all this tragedy – that she couldn’t help but laugh at? We don’t actually need an answer for that question.

Here are a few facts to illustrate the feminist icon, the revolutionary, the painter, the woman, Frida Kahlo.

  • Contrary to popular belief, she did not have Hungarian ancestors. She did indeed have a relationship with Hungarian photographer Nickolas Murray.
  • She planned to become a doctor before her accident and started painting during the recovery period when she was bed-ridden for months.
  • Making food was an art she absolutely adored – and also what she learned from her (first and second) husband’s, Diego Rivera’s ex wife, Lupe.
  • Kahlo only had one major exhibition in the USA before her death, although she was extremely popular in the artist society because of her bold and witty personality and her undeniable beauty.

There is an exhibition at the Hungarian National Gallery that attempts to show visitors how her life and work were intertwined. There are several self-portraits in the exhibit, along with one of her oil paintings from 1927 and with several photographs and the letter she wrote to Nickolas Muray in Hungarian. She has been an inspiration to many – let her inspire you and dive into her world for a couple of hours in Budapest.

Read more about Frida and Nickolas Muray’s relationship!

Frida painted what she was like and what she experienced without inhibition. She can help us understand not only herself, but ourselves better as well. Inside and out.

Feature image: Nickolas Muray.

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