The Case Files: Frida Kahlo

So after asking for suggestions last week from everyone, Michelle requested for a post on Frida Kahlo.

Once upon a time, I knew nothing about Frida Kahlo. All I knew was that she was a Mexican painter who had a unibrow and was played by Selma Hayek in a movie about her life. Shame on me. Shame on me.

Now, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface and I want to know more! Has anyone watched the movie? I’m curious if I should now.

So let’s talk about Frida Kahlo and what is surely a very colorful and very interesting life. The timeline is also quite confusing, so I will do my best.

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 but she claims her birthday was in 1910 to sync up with the Mexican Revolution. That’s really neither here nor there, I just think it’s an interesting tidbit to get into Frida’s state of mind.

While Frida never claims having the disease, she was born with spina bifida which royally messed up her spine and right leg. When she was 6, she contracted polio. This left her right leg further compromised and thinner than her left leg. She wore long colorful skirts to cover up this deformity.

The physical tragedy didn’t end there for Kahlo. When she was 18, she got into a trolley car accident where she suffered a variety of injuries including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, and a crushed right foot. The worst injury was the iron handrail which pierced her abdomen and her uterus. This injury prevented her from reproducing and caused Frida serious psychological pain.

Frida was confined to the hospital to recover from these injuries. In the hospital, her father gave her some paints and a specialized easel so she could paint while lying down. It was here she abandoned her plans to attend medical school and dedicated her life to painting.

Frida later met her husband Diego Rivera, also a painter. I won’t go into details, but from what I’ve read, their relationship belonged on a Tele Novela or some other crazy soap opera. Kahlo and Rivera both had several extramarital affairs, but there was a unyeilding passion between these two. If you’ve ever seen Vicki Christina Barcelona, I imagine it to be like Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. All fireworks and angst. This is a picture entitled “Diego in my thoughts”. The spider web that ensnares her is pretty haunting, huh? Love has caused some of the greatest mental pain we could ever know.

I couldn’t find anything that specifically outlined any mental illness diagnosis for Kahlo, but based on her writings and paintings, Kahlo had some issues with identity and depression. She lived through chronic pain which was reflected psychologically in her painting. Much of her art is filled with graphic images associated with her body image and her attempt to reconcile her illness and pain.

Kahlo died on July 13, 1954. Shortly before her death she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida”.

Much like many artists similar to Frida’s genius, her art was not fully appreciated until the 1980′s. I am thankful she was so brave to share her thoughts and allow herself to be so vulnerable with her pain. I am sure that many people have found solace knowing their similar emotions could be expressed with the same freedom as Kahlo’s.

Sources (1, 2)



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Posted on by Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA Posted in Mind, The Case Files
Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

About Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a mental health counselor newly residing in Seattle, Washington. I strongly believe in the mind-body connection as the cornerstone of my professional ideology, along with the healing possibilities of puppies, a good glass of red wine, the smell of a new book, and the importance of travel.

  • Sari14

    um that’s insane! I’ve never known someone to be brutally beaten by life’s elements! maybe helen keller but still

    • Jen!

      yeah, we should start a club for kick ass ladies who battled life and won.

  • http://www.YogaHealthForLife.com Michelle @ YogaHealthForLife

    “I am sure that many people have found solace knowing their similar emotions could be expressed with the same freedom as Kahlo’s.” OMG, this is exactly why I’m so drawn to Kahlo’s work. She was so relentlessly honest with her life experiences. I’d like to think she cared less about people judging her than most of us do. She was free to express herself in the raw. So many of us just want to show up in this life and be heard, but we’re too afraid to speak our truth. Well, she showed up and her truth was heard. Maddd respect. Great post!!!

    • Jen!

      Thanks, Michelle! I’m so glad you suggested her, I think she is fascinating and such a beautiful example of radical honesty with yourself. She is a model of self-awareness!

  • Transhill

    You are so cute Jen :)

    • Jen!

      Well geez, thank you! :)

  • Modox

    Have you read the book The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver? I’m just finishing it up right now and looked up Frid Kahlo’s paintings and ran across this blog. I think you’d enjoy the book. It’s a fictional story about a typist/chef who worked for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo during the depression, and he’s writing a diary about their quirkiness and their interesting friends who stay with them in Mexico around the Depression. There’s a lot more to it than that, but anyway, it’s an interesting read.

    • Jen!

      No, but I’ll have to check it out. It sounds great! Thanks for the recommendation!

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  • Janedwardvogels

    You gathered some interesting highlights about the life and times of Frida, but neglected some of the “magical” elements that surrounded almost everything that happened in her life. For instance, the terrible trolley accident, in addition to the devastating injuries, also turned her, briefly, into a work of art.

    These are the words of her boyfriend who was also injured in the accident: “Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone in the bus, probably a house painter, had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida. When people saw her, they cried, ‘La bailarina, la bailarina!’ With the gold on her red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer.”

    Now you know how she would come to paint such fantastical images…..some of those images actually happened to her.

    • http://www.thepursuitofsassiness.com/ Jennifer Bingaman

      Wow, that’s beautiful. I’m sad I missed that when I was doing my research. Thank you for commenting!

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  • http://twitter.com/SandraHarriette Sandra Harriette

    I read about her for Latin American Art History. It was incredibly fascinating. Of course, the book did not elaborate as much as you did.

  • Javier

    very interesting facts. i love her painting. thank you all for all the info. my fav painting is between the curtains. love that painting

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  • Lyndise

    Hi Jen, I’m also a counsellor in Essex, United Kingdom, with the same understanding and belief in a good glass of red wine and the smell of a new book, however I prefer the healing possibilities of a kitten rather than a puppy…you say potaaatoe and I say potatoe :) Just wanted to say Hi, and that I really appreciate your Frida article, she was a fierce and inspirational human being, take care Lyndise x

  • kdurkin6@gmail.com

    Hi Jen – I stumbled upon your site while looking for images of Frida. I was wondering if you could give me any information abot the portrait of her by “Carton”. I am interested in using it for a client’s project.

    THanks

    Kim

    • http://www.thepursuitofsassiness.com/ Jennifer Bingaman

      Hi Kim,

      Unfortunately, I’m not a Frida Kahlo scholar. Anything I would give you would just be random Googling on my part, which I figure you could do but probably have a better, more targeted, outcome. Good luck!

  • Ebony

    great and to the point article. I like how you included some of your own observations and I didn’t even think about the psychological impact of her injuries so great point. Thanks