The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 was the first seismic social convulsion of the 20th century, radically transforming the political and cultural landscape of the country. For the young Frida Kahlo, growing up in Mexico City through these politically turbulent times, the revolution offered a kind of opportunity – the breakdown of social conventions would later allow her to pursue a life as a painter that transformed her, in later years, into a feminist icon.
The daughter of an immigrant German photographer and a Mexican mother, Kahlo cited two key events in her early life that had a profound impact on her art. One was a near-fatal bus crash in 1925 in which she fractured her pelvis and smashed her spinal column. The second was her marriage to the world-famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera when she was 22. She suffered the effects of the bus accident throughout her life and was particularly traumatised at being unable to have children. Her tempestuous relationship with Rivera was also a subject of much sorrow.
Kahlo had planned to study medicine, but after the bus accident she began painting and developed a series of self-portraits that captured her inner torment and suffering. But her vivid imagination revealed her to be more than just a documenter of personal misery: Kahlo was an artist who painted life as a deeply surreal, and at times desperate, journey.
In 1932, having suffered a miscarriage, she made the painting Henry Ford Hospital, depicting the artist naked and alone on blood-soaked sheets, surrounded by a barren landscape that echoes her own barrenness. ‘Never before,’ said Rivera, ‘has a woman put such agonised poetry on canvas.’
As the years passed Kahlo’s heath continued to deteriorate. In 1953 her lower leg was amputated, and she died a year later, at the age of just 47.
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