21 Facts You Didn’t Know About Queer, Feminist Icon Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo was a visionary Mexican artist born on July 6th, 1907 and passed on July 13, 1954. She lived a short, but quite eventful, 47 years of life. While Kahlo lived in Paris, New York, and San Francisco, Kahlo is known for being fiercely proud of her Mexican heritage, using dress to evoke political meaning.
To this day, her work inspires and resonates still with the queer, female and non-gender-conforming experiences.
1. Frida Kahlo is the OG Selfie Queen.
Most people, when they think of Frida Kahlo’s artwork, think of her self portraits. During her life, her art was eclipsed by her husband’s, Diego Rivera. Only until after she passed and the Feminist Revolution erupted in the 1970’s did the public truly appreciate her refusal to be defined by anyone else, and her whole-hearted self acceptance, as depicted in her portraits.
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
2. Most of Kahlo’s paintings are not of herself.
Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self portraits and the other 88 are not. She actually painted mostly still-life images of fruit and flowers alongside political symbols.
What do you think of the porcelain blonde girl in the white dress peering over the bed of tropical fruit?
3. Kahlo was in a terrible bus accident when she was 18 years old.
One September morning, Frida and her boyfriend boarded a bus that would collide with a train. Her boyfriend remembers the bus as “bursting into a thousand pieces.” A handrail ripped through Kahlo’s torso.
Later, he recounted, “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.”
The column here represents her fragile spine, which would cause chronic pain for the rest of her life.
4. While bedridden, Kahlo painted her first paintings.
5. Kahlo dreamed of becoming a doctor, but instead endured more than 30 surgeries in her lifetime.
Before the accident, she suffered polio as a child and was pursuing medicine. The injuries from the accident forced her instead into grief over what was lost, especially her ability to bear children.
The accident irreparably damaged her uterus, causing several devastating miscarriages. Above is a self portrait titled Henry Ford Hospital, that depicts what she lost.
6. Kahlo preferred long skirts to cover her leg.
“I must have full skirts and long, now that my sick leg is so ugly.”
Her leg was left severely deformed from the polio, and modern doctors now think she may have also had spina bifida.
7. Her right leg was amputated at the knee towards the end of her life.
You can see how her right foot on the left is withered from the polio. Eventually it developed gangrene. The right is an image Frida drew in her diary. She tried to make light by writing, “Feet, why do I want you if I have wings to fly?”
8. Frida Kahlo’s father was German.
Her father suffered a similar fate, moving to Mexico after epilepsy developed by an accident ended his university studies. Her mother was half Spanish and half indigenous Oaxacana.
9. Frida was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón, but dropped the ‘e’.
Frieda comes from the German word “friede”, which means peace. Ironically, she dropped the ‘e’ in 1935 to avoid being associated with Germany during Hitler’s rule.
10. Kahlo met her husband and famous muralist, Diego Rivera, in the Mexican Communist Party.
They met at a party, and she asked him to judge her work. He said that her paintings had “an unusual energy of expression, precise delineation of character, and true severity.”
Their relationship was volatile. He was 20 years older than her and immediately left his then second-wife to marry Frida Kahlo. Kahlo and Rivera divorced and remarried a year later. They both had extramarital affairs, Rivera having one with Frida’s sister.
11. Frida Kahlo was queer AF.
In all the ways, from her gender expression to her sexuality. She once said, “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
Many historians now believe that Diego’s self-professed pride in being a womanizer is what gave her so much untold turmoil and pain.
But, soon things changed when she moved to Paris…
12. Frida Kahlo and Josephine Baker fell madly in love in Paris 1939.
Josephine Baker was working for the French Military Intelligence agency at the time, working against Hitler. Baker was also a singer, and both of them became famous in town for being openly bisexual.
13. Rare photos have surfaced showing Kahlo dressed in suits in family photos.
This picture was taken when she was 17 years old, just one year before the bus accident that would change everything. Frida Kahlo truly pushed the boundaries, and unapologetically so.
14. She even painted a self portrait of herself in a suit.
Her hair was in pieces all around her on the ground, and she held a pair of scissors to her groin. Historians always assumed it was a threat to Diego Rivera for his infidelity or some kind of message of self-hate.
15. Kahlo redefined Mexican mythology in her work.
Monkeys are usually symbols of lust in Mexican and Colombian mythology, but Kahlo always depicts them as tender, protective symbols.
Perhaps a message to all of us recovering Catholics that there’s nothing threatening or inherently wrong about lust.
16. Kahlo’s “The Frame” was the first piece of Mexican art purchased by the Louvre.
Her work, today, also garners more money than any other female artist. While she was alive, Pablo Picasso took an interest in her work, alongside other surrealists, to which she responded:
They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.
17. Kahlo had several exotic pets…like monkey exotic.
Pictured above is her fawn, Granizo. She also had a few Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintli (that hairless dog breed that was coveted by the Aztecs), a pair of spider monkeys named Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal, an Amazon parrot called Bonito and an eagle named Gertrudis Caca Blanca.
18. Kahlo arrived to her first art show in an ambulance.
During her last year of life, she scored her first solo exhibition in Mexico. Against doctor’s orders, Kahlo asked the ambulance to take her from the hospital to her exhibit, and she pulled up as if in a limousine.
19. At one point, Kahlo was force fed to keep her alive.
Her many surgeries and illnesses brought a lack of appetite. Her doctor ordered that she be sent to bed rest and be fed a fattening purée of food every two hours.
The ladder depicted here is what she would use to paint from her bed, only to be replaced by a disgusting array of animal products.
On the back of the painting, she wrote: “Not the least hope remains to me…Everything move in time with what the belly contains.”
20. Kahlo has become a feminist icon.
While during her life, she was known as the wife of Master Mural Painter Diego Rivera with a side hobby, she lived and painted the fullest expression of her self. Her paintings give deeply personal insight into the female experience, especially that of a disabled, queer experience during a time it was anything but OK to be that.
I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.
21. Frida was born and died in the same house, Casa Azul.
Her home has since been made into el Museo de Frida Kahlo, in Mexico City. You can go visit the home that housed so much recovery, inspiration, and fearlessness.