Remembering Frida Kahlo
This International Women’s Day, I’m celebrating Frida Kahlo and recognising the many women out there living with chronic pain.
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting a Frida Kahlo exhibition as part of the Sydney Festival.
The exhibition was an immersive biography that helped me to better understand this remarkable female artist and discover what was behind her creativity.
Here’s what I learned:
Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico in 1907 and died in 1954—she was just 47 years old.
Frida suffered from polio as a child, which atrophied the muscles of her right leg. She wore an orthopaedic boot and often wore peasant skirts to cover it.
In 1925, Frida survived a tram accident, but was left with serious injures. She underwent more than 30 reconstructive operations—chronic pain became her companion and inspired much of her art.
Due to pelvic injuries from the tram accident, Frida experienced multiple miscarriages. Instead of nurturing a child, she gave her affection to pets, plants, and her nieces and nephews.
Frida was (twice) married to promiscuous painter Diego Rivera. Diego had an affair with Frida’s sister, Cristina, which affected her deeply.
Although Frida disapproved of the surrealist label, she painted in a surealist style completely independent from artists in France.
Frida knew how to be unique. She made her own clothes and refused to conform to society’s narrow idea of beauty—in fact, her natural eyebrows and moustache have become great symbols of her individuality and self-confidence.
Frida held her first individual exhibition in Mexico in 1953—just one year before she died. By exploring deeply personal and emotional issues, Frida helped usher in a new wave of female artists who used art to explore their own experiences.
You can take a look at the highlights from my exhibition visit here:
Analysing The Dream
Frida’s artworks are more intriguing and potent than ever before. But my personal favourite has to be The Dream, which Frida painted in 1940.
Let’s take a look at what this fascinating image could mean...
In this self-portrait, Frida dreams in her old, wooden, four-poster bed floating in the clouds.
The skeleton that lies on the canopy of her bed was a copy of a papier-mache skeleton that Frida made for the Mexican pre-Easter celebrations.
The figure of death holding faded flowers could refer to her own demise.
The vines that creep up her bright yellow sheet and encircle her head are like living counterparts to the tendrils of wire connected to explosives ‘growing’ over the skeleton.
There is a play between the tendrils of life and death, perhaps Frida was reflecting on her ability to create life.
Often, the important events of life take place in bed: Conception, birth and death. Beds are a recurring symbol in Frida’s work, as she was confined to hers as a child, teenager and woman.
Celebrating International Women’s Day
Today, on International Women’s Day, I would like to share my appreciation of Frida Kahlo. She was one of the greatest feminists to ever live—her strength and determination in the face of chronic pain, adversity and social pressure is an inspiration.
I’m also grateful to all of the amazing women in my life, in particular, those who are dealing with anxiety and depression, cancer, or chronic pain due to conditions like endometriosis. You are amazing and important. Your courage blows me away. I love you.
“We can endure much more than we think we can.” Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954
About Victoria Hall
Victoria Hall is an English-born, Australian-based writer and illustrator. She is the creator of three picture books for children, Penny Prickles at Coogee Beach, Eggy Peggy Has Lost Her Leggy and The Fairy Beasts. For more updates, follow Victoria on Instagram or check out her bio here.