Born July 6, 1907, Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon was born in her parents’ house in Coyoacán, Mexico, a suburb of Mexico City. Her father, Guillermo (Wilhelm) Kahlo, was one of Mexico’s foremost photographers; the son of Hungarian Jews from the German town of Baden-Baden who immigrated to Mexico. Her mother, Matilde Calderon, a Mexican of Indian and Spanish ancestry from Oaxaca. The family home- Casa Azul (“Blue House”), was built by Guillermo a few years before Frida’s birth. She was born, raised, lived and died in her familial home.
Her father had a profound influence on her life. Guillermo urged her questions and encouraged her to be a tomboy. Despite having other siblings, Frida became “daddy’s favorite.” It is said that Guillermo Kahlo favored Frida over his other children because she was the most intelligent.
In 1913, at the age of seven, Frida was stricken with polio. The affliction would stunt the growth of her right leg, permanently withering it. Frida covered this up by wearing long skirts and pants. Miraculously, she would regain her ability to walk.
In 1922, Frida became one of 35 women from a student body of 2,000 to be admitted to the prestigious National Preparatory School, or El Prepo, in Mexico City. She wanted to study medicine, but upon arriving to the vibrant intellectual center of her country, she discovered political activists, artists, communists, and other people who dared to dream and question.
Cutting her hair and donning overalls instead of the drab outfits of a good Catholic girl, Frida fell in with the Cachets, a group of pranksters led by Alejandro Gómez. One of the Cachets’ favorite victims was a tall and fat muralist, Diego Rivera, who was commissioned by the school to paint its auditorium. Spunky Frida stopped at nothing to annoy Rivera, 20 years her senior. She and the Cachets soaped the stairs so Diego would slip and fall, stole his lunch, and popped water balloons over his head. Only years later would her taunting and teasing of Diego evolve into a love affair.
On a rainy day in September 1925, Frida Kahlo and her boyfriend Alejandro Gómez Arias were in Mexico City waiting for a bus that would take them to her home in Coyoacán, Mexico. Seconds after boarding the bus, an electric trolley rammed into it, throwing bodies everywhere. 18 year-old Frida disappeared in this confusion, and Alejandro, also injured, discovered her with a metal pole protruding from her abdomen. Frida was rushed to the hospital, where doctors treated a fractured pelvis, a dislocated shoulder, two broken ribs, and shattered bones in the right leg and foot. This accident was the beginning of an unbearably painful series of physical ailments that would persist for the rest of Frida’s short life, subjecting her to numerous (30) operations, and would be the reason why she would never be able to bear children.
During her recuperation, her father lavished attention on his favorite child, who had once been an energetic tomboy. He helped Frida exercise and to gave her paints to help pass the time.
Although Frida’s recovery was physically complete, she did have relapses of tremendous pain and fatigue all throughout her life, which caused her to be hospitalized for long periods of time, bedridden. She also had to endure numerous surgeries to help repair the damage. She once joked that she held the record for the most operations.
It was during this convalescence that Frida turned to painting as a release for her suffering. Despite writing to him repeatedly, Alejandro never returned her letters. After one frustrating year of prolific painting and painful progress, she happened to encounter Diego again when he was working on a mural in Mexico City. Summoning him impetuously from his spot high near the roof, she asked his honest, unflattering opinion of her work. Rivera inspected her canvas and told her, “Keep it up, little girl.” Then he asked if she had any more, and Kahlo seized the opportunity to invite him to the Casa Azul to show off the rest of her work. Critics have often said that the two artists had a lot in common, with their love of iconoclasm and Mexico being among the strongest bonds.
In 1929, when Kahlo was 22 and Rivera 42, the two were married in the Coyoacán courthouse, though Frida’s mother did not attend the wedding because she hoped her daughter could find a more attractive, conventional match. People called them “The Elephant and the Dove”– Frida was much shorter and more slender than the gargantuan Diego.
Frida officially retained her own surname name, and the newlyweds moved into a stylish house in Mexico City shared by some other communists. Later that same year, Kahlo became pregnant, though she had an abortion because her damaged body could not handle the pregnancy without putting her own life at risk.
It was during this time that Frida adopted the fashions that would become her trademark- her thick, bird wing eyebrows, her long hair bound up into complex knots and decorated with scarves and flowers, large intricate earrings and necklaces, and long skirts and gowns, symbolizing her empathy and identifying with the Mexican tehuana.
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” – Frida Kahlo
Frida’s life would be fraught with physical and emotional pain. She also turned to alcohol and drugs to ease the pain of her physical suffering. Her inability to have children was another source of torment for Frida. She and Diego both had many extramarital affairs; one of Diego’s was with Frida’s own sister, Christina; Frida’s were both with men and women, including Leon Trotsky and Georgia O’Keefe. (Frida and Diego divorced at one point, but remarried a year later.) Through all this, she painted, her works reflecting her unhappiness and echoing her pain. At the age of 47, she died, the last entry in her journal reading “I hope the leaving is joyful and I hope never to return.”
A rare video of Frida and Diego at the Casa Azul was recently posted by a fan page on Facebook, Frida Kahlo, where we can see the romance and love between them.