“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
There’s something about Frida Kahlo that touched my soul from the first time I laid eyes on her work. Her honest self-depiction, mono-brow and all, thrilled me and saddened me too. I was thrilled to see a brown woman with such a distinction in the world of modern art, adorned in splendiferous colourful materials, her hair drawn tightly off her determined face. She certainly wasn’t a shy girl but a beautiful woman, bold and proud of her sex. And more than a little bit ‘ethnic’. She wasn’t worried about silly things like facial hair.
But I felt sad for the woman Frida, and felt a parallel with my own life. Like Frida, I had problems with the parts that make you a woman. Two operations for a humongous ovarian cyst left me considerably shaken and uncertain as to whether I would ever become a mother. It hurts more than you expect it to. You set the standard pretty high in your head but it surpasses that.
The hardships she suffered were of no consequence to her work, if anything, they made her art more accessible to women. Shocking, yes, but then isn’t that life? Madonna purchased Frida’s painting entitled ‘My Birth’, a fan of Kahlo; she has many of her other paintings. It is this one in particular though, that her ex husband Guy Ritchie is said to be ‘creeped out’ by. Admittedly the sheet over her mother’s head can be interpreted as somewhat sinister but Frida painted this to mark the passing of her late mother. She commented in her diary that she gave birth to herself.
Childbirth is pretty gruesome but also amazingly beautiful and magically overwhelming. What can seem hopeless in one moment suddenly becomes a miracle. It’s real. It is what it is. It’s how Guy Ritchie’s children were born too.
During her drawn out period of convalescence Frida started painted having given up on a career in medicine. Of all her artwork, 55 pieces are self-portraits. I feel an affinity with her here too. In ‘The Broken Column’ she expresses her confinement and pain, a picture that could best describe my own predicament. Having recently had a 2nd operation to fix a faulty disc in my back, I have been limited in what I can do. My movement is quite restricted, I have been told to never attempt to touch my toes ever again. But I am able to type. A lot of my writing is what I have experienced for myself, whether personally or professionally. It is, for me, a never-ending story. Frida expresses some of that in her work.
Frida Kahlo inspires me to keep going, whatever the obstacles. She is thought provoking and emotionally charged. She is vital. And also, very vulnerable. But you only see her vulnerability through her eyes.
For her first solo exhibition in Mexico, she was too unwell to travel and had been advised to stay at home and recuperate. With dogged determinedness, she shunned the doctor’s words and arranged to be transported to the opening, her bed followed behind in a truck. I don’t idolise many people, or connect with the famous or even infamous but I have to say, she sets a shining example to women and feminists everywhere. She was way ahead of her time. She painted things people were too afraid to discuss. She had opinions, raw emotions. She did not care about what they thought of her life and her loves. She was strong and compassionate, assertive yet very feminine.
“…one of history’s grand divas…a tequila-slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker, bi-sexual that hobbled about her bohemian barrio in lavish indigenous dress and threw festive dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller, and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera.”
I wish Frida had lived a little later. It would have been a resplendent honour to have her as my fantasy dinner guest. I wouldn’t need to invite anyone else.