One of the biggest influences in my life is Frida Kahlo. I got interested on her life a long time ago, before it was a trend. (Stop ruining everything I like with your trends! It was the same when I had braids and then Belinda had braids, and all the girls who watched her dramas used braids too and then people supposed that I was Belinda’s fan, but I did it first and then you ruined it >.<)
However… I can’t remember how I got interested on Frida’s life, so from now I will be thinking out loud until I can understand why I was interested on her paintings.
We are very different. I would say that our personalities are the very opposite. We do not have the same goals, values, principles or ideals. Our viewpoints in life are very different, especially about love and relationships. The first time I heard about her relationship with Diego Rivera I said: “This is everything I would never do/accept/forgive”. Because I always say: “Love shouldn’t be painful. If it is painful there is something wrong”. But I really wanted to understand her paintings. There are 2 kinds of her paintings. Some are full of symbolism and it is really hard to understand if you don’t know the situation she was while painting. Other paintings are so simple to be called “art” or may look like Frida is an overrated artist.
Then I read Frida’s diary and the love letters she sent to Diego. At the end I liked more her poems than her paintings.
If Frida and I are so different, why can I understand very well every single word she wrote to Diego?
Now, every time I think about real love I think about them. But why would I think about a relationship full of torment? This was the craziest and most imperfect relationship, between the most imperfect people. Instead of thinking about a lovely perfect couple, I think about them. Why?
Frida was born in Mexico in 1907, but she always said she was born in 1910 “the year of the Mexican Revolution, with a rebellious generation”. She felt so rejected by her mother, who always showed a clear favoritism for Cristina, Frida’s little sister. For her mother, Cristina was “the good daughter, the beautiful, talented, kind, educated, and elegant” girl in the family. Frida and Cristina were almost of the same age (only 11 months of difference), so they had similar experiences at the same time. Frida’s mother used to compare them at any opportunity. That favoritism was so obvious that Frida’s mother figure was her nurse, a native woman.
She showed that feeling in the painting “My nurse and I”
Despite Frida was a German/Spanish descendant, she learned to love the Mexican culture due to her nurse. Frida couldn’t remember her nurse’s face, so she painted her nurse wearing a mask. Frida always said how her nurse was the “lovely mother” she needed, but in the painting we don’t see such love or caring.
The background in the painting is full of dense vegetation. This means the cultural richness in Mexico, and how “native people use to be more sparky and colorful than the elegant, high-class people”. Frida criticized high class people very often, calling them as “the insensitive and fake people”.
While being a child, Frida got poliomyelitis. Due to this illness she spent months in bed. She always talked about a lonely childhood. She painted “4 inhabitants of Mexico City”, where she appears as a thumbsucking little girl, she looks lonely or even lost (if we think about all the psychological process needed for a child to have the habit of thumbsucking). Another example is the painting “She is playing alone”.
When she was healthy, she didn’t act like an average girl. She enjoyed playing soccer, boxing and other sports. She always had male friends.
Being used to interact with men helped her to adapt to highschool. Back in these days, she was one of the first women who could go to highshool as any other men. She was part of a group of intellectual students dedicated to stand up for other students from teacher’s abuse of power. These students were rebellious and promoted anarchy. After some years, the students in that group became very important people in Mexican history.
One of her most important paintings is “The broken column”.
When she was 17 years old, Frida and her boyfriend had an accident on the trolley while going back to home after school. Her column was broken in 3 parts. In addition, she had several fractures on her ribs, a leg, an arm, her hip and her pelvis. A metallic tube pierced her hip destroying her uterus.
She could survive to the accident, but after that, she needed to be in wheelchair or bed most of the time. She wasn’t able to have children. She spent long periods in hospitals; she had several surgeries and painful treatments for the rest of her life. Let’s think about the medical situation 100 years ago… part of her treatment included wearing metallic corsets and casts, along with a painful “stretching therapy”.
The “broken column” clearly shows her pain. A common symbol in her paintings is the desert. It means the loneliness, devastation, her world destroyed by something or somebody (Usually her love, Diego), in this case, by the accident.
Once she wrote: “Life is very hilarious. When somebody like me has the strength enough to live without any addiction, even if your friends invite you to drink alcohol… Life does to you something like the accident. Now the only way to endure the pain, is by using marijuana. And even the doctor tells you to use it! People use to say, to have a good life you shouldn’t drink alcohol, but you know what… I don’t expect a good life anymore, so I started drinking”.
Frida and her friends were always interested in politics. She was in a Communist unit. They used to have parties together and enjoy the weekends with other communists. The painter Diego Rivera was in that group too. She watched him very carefully, but never talked to him. They never met properly in those parties.
The way they met is one of the most emblematic moments in Frida’s life:
Diego was painting a mural in a school. There she had he opportunity to watch him while working. He was already a famous painter. He used to be admired and respected by everybody. She never expected to be a profesional painter. It was just a hobby for her, or a therapy to express her feelings and a way to spend the time when she was on bed and unable to move.
Diego was working the mural, she came by to show him her paintings and to ask for some advice. He ignored her and kept working. She called him again. Somebody was there and told her: “He is an artist. You know how artists act when they are inspired. At this moment, there is nothing else in his mind than his painting. Please understand it and let him work”.
And she replied: “Do you know how hard is for me to walk a little bit, carrying all those paintings? Just to see how he ignores me? Don’t tell me about inspiration…”
Then she got closer to Diego and said: “Hey potbelly! Will you pay attention to what I am saying or will you keep being a jerk? Don’t try to act like you are ignoring me while you play to draw on walls like a 3 years old child”.
Diego got really angry at that. He turned back to her, asking for somebody to get her out of the school. Then he saw her paintings and felt stunned. Somehow they had a nice conversation; he encouraged her to keep painting, because she was a talented girl. A year later they were getting married.
People couldn’t understand their relationship. People used to say that they were “like an elephant dating a dove”. She was small, tiny and fragile. He was older than her. (He was almost 40 years old, when she was in her early 20’s). He had some illness in his thyroid gland. As a result he was obese and had problems with his eyes. He wasn’t a handsome man, but he was a well-known womanizer.
She wasn’t ugly, but she always felt so embarrassed because of the scars in her body due to the accident. People couldn’t see the scars, but she knew that the scars were there and it was visible on her every day attitude.
Once she wrote a love letter to Diego saying: “I lost my virginity in a very bad way, by a metal tube in a car accident. Then, the first man who saw me naked was the doctor while trying to keep me alive. All I got was a body full of scars. You know, I always say ‘Take a lover who looks at you like maybe, you are magic’. The first night we were together, I was so nervous while I was naked in front of you… You just hugged me and kissed all the way of my scars. Then I realized how much you love me.”
Usually people get confused because Frida used to paint herself with huge eyebrows, but in the pictures, she doesn’t have such eyebrows. Her eyebrows are a symbol. In some paintings her eyebrows are a bird. She said: “Most women spend their time taking out their eyebrows, wearing corsets and eating nothing, to be pretty and desired by a man. But you know what.. I don’t do anything of this and I have a man who truly loves me like a crazy. My eyebrows are like a bird with huge wings, and are in my forehead because my ideas and my mind can fly very high. My mind is free, my ideas are free, and therefore, I am free. It doesn’t matter if I can’t walk sometimes. Why do I need feet if I have wings o fly?”.
In some self-portraits, she paints in her forehead whatever was in her mind at that moment. Sometimes she painted Diego, or even the death. We can see the self-portrait “Diego in my thoughts”. She is wearing a pink dress, pink represents the sweet love. She has flowers in her hair. Flowers mean love too. She wrote: “Flowers are like love. You can give flowers to anybody, but not everybody knows how to react to that gift. An idiot doesn’t recognize how fragile can a flower be, and he may end up destroying it. A smart man will be careful and will take care of the flowers. Every girl must think carefully before giving flowers to another person. Once we give the flowers, we have no more power over them”.
Although he was older than her, Diego was like a little child for her. Frida wrote: “Why would I want to have children if I already have my own 5 year old boy? There is nothing more wonderful in the world than having an adult who becomes a child at your side. When that person trust you enough to let him be a as innocent as a child, to show you his sweetest and more fragile side, to be weak and be able to cry in your lap, even if the adult is having a hard time in his life, or just because he made a cut on his finger while cooking. There is no bigger happiness than making him laugh like a child who listen to a joke for the first time… or even when he makes you laugh with a simple innocent sentence. There is no bigger pleasure in the life than taking that powerful and strong man in your arms, and give him a hot bath, like if he wasn’t able to do it by himself… then to take him back to bed, to cover him with some blankets and hug him until he falls asleep, like a baby”.
We can see that attitude towards him in the painting: The love hug between the universe, the earth, I, Diego and the lord Xolotl”.
To understand who was the lord Xolotl and why she has a dog on her side I will talk about Mexican mythology:
In Aztec mythology, there is a main god, the Almighty Creator Tezcatlipoca, who can’t be represented, because he is everywhere and he is similar to air. This god had 2 children, twins. In Mexican mythology there is not good people or bad people, everybody, even gods have both characteristics in their personality, so there is no “good twin” and “evil twin”.
One of the twins is Quetzalcoatl (The Winged Snake). Theologists have always been interested in this god because of the similes to Jesus. Quetzalcoatl is a man with white skin, beard, big nose and big eyes (this description is completely different to Mexican native appearance). Quetzalcoatl wanted to help humans, so he gave gifts to the people, like corn and the knowledge to use medical herbs, to build houses and astronomy. Quetzalcoatl traveled for all Mexico until he reached Tulum City (in the Mexican southeast coast, by the Caribbean). There Quetzalcoatl said that he needed to visit the people in the other side of the sea. He promised to come back to eradicate all the evil in the world definitely. So he said good bye and disappeared with his ship. Mexican people built a temple to wait for Quetzalcoatl’s return. (So when Hernan Cortes and Christopher Columbus reached Mexico, they were received as gods and not as invaders).
The other twin is Xolotl. This god is in charge of the netherworld and the Mictlan (similar to hell). He is known for his ability to transform into any animal. There was a very special tree, “the Tree of Knowledge”, but humans were forbidden to get close to the tree. Somehow humans reached the tree and there was Xolotl in the form of an animal, he gave humans the “Fire of Knowledge”.
In the Mexican mythology he is not completely bad or dangerous. He is in charge of help anyone who needs to travel through the Mictlan. Every night, when the Sun disappears, Xolotl guides it through the Mictlan until the other side, where the sun rises again. The same way, when somebody dies, Xolotl hugs and guides that person through the Mictlan, along with the person’s dog.
In Mexican mythology, every human needs to have a dog. The dog guides their owner to the next life as gratitude because the human took care of the dog in one life, and the dog takes care of the human in the next life. In the second life, humans and dogs switch positions, that’s why people shouldn’t abuse of the power over animals.
Xolotl cannot kill people, it is the very opposite, he is afraid of death and he tried to avoid it as much as possible. At some point of history, the universe balance was broken and the 5th Sun did not work anymore. To make it work Tezcatlipoca had to sacrifice all the gods, Xolotl included, but he tried to escape several times. So it is supposed that Xolotl already died and people are still waiting for Quetzalcoatl to come back. –End of the parenthesis-
This explains the meaning of Xolotl and the dog in the painting. This painting is commonly described as “The middle point between hope and desperation”. We can see Mother Nature and the water/milk coming out of her breast. The Sun and the Moon represent the male and female side in everything. There is the light and the darkness, the good and the bad side on everything. We can see cactus and other desert plants, full of thorns with strong roots. Frida still has some tears in her eyes. She wears a red dress, red means the love and the passion and she is protecting Diego with her arms and her dress. At the same time, the Mother Nature is protecting them from all the thorns around. Diego appears as a baby with a third eye. Diego looks vulnerable, but at the same time, he is holding the “fire of knowledge”.
She said to him several times: “You deserve the best, the very best, because you are one of the few people in this lousy world who are honest to themselves, and that is the only thing that really counts.”
Diego was so proud of her, for being a rebellious woman. He painted “The Arsenal”, where he draws Frida, dressed as a man, giving out weapons to the rebels. She was the only one who could understand his rebellious personality and they fought together against injustice. Every time people asked him about Fida looking too manly, he said: “She is perfect, she can be a sweet woman, but if we need to fight, she can be the bravest warrior by my side”.
Diego used to say about her: “I recommend her to you, not as a husband but as an enthusiastic admirer of her work, acid and tender, hard as steel and delicate and fine as a butterfly’s wing, lovable as a beautiful smile, and as profound and cruel as the bitterness of life.”
They had some differences. Diego wanted to live in a big city, like New York or Paris “with all the high class people”. Frida wanted to live in Mexico, in a big house full of animals, eating Mexican food and speaking Spanish. Diego spoke English very well, but she never learned it properly, even after years living in the USA. She used to made fun of herself writing all her love letters to Diego in a very bad English and he had hard times trying to translate it. Diego laughed a lot at her love letters.
Despite they loved each other; their relationship was full of troubles. Frida was always sick, and under pain, she needed especial and expensive treatments, plus a constant struggle against depression and alcoholism.
Diego had the “artist personality”. He used to get obsessed with his paintings. When he was working on a new mural, he was away for weeks, and Frida felt lonely. Even if he was working a home, he didn’t pay attention to her. When he wasn’t working he was the sweetest man in the world and she was really happy, she got used to that amount of love, and then he started a new mural and went away again. The same way, after a selling a painting, they were rich. Then he spent all his money in parties, buying exotic treasures and women, until they had no more money. Then he had to resell those ancient objects to get money again. He always wanted to have a museum, but behaving that way he couldn’t make that dream true.
His mood changed easily, one day he was sweet and caring and the next day he was an aggressive tyrant. She learned to manage his personality, but there was something she couldn’t handle:
Diego had several affairs with every model he painted. Somehow she forgave him every time, until the most painful episode in her life. Diego did one of the most painful things a partner can do. He had an affair with Cristina, Frida’s sister, in her own house, her own bed, at her own party. It really hurt her.
She wrote: “Every time, she has to steal something from me. She stole my mother’s milk, love, attention, and everything else. And I was able to handle all of that, but why she had to steal Diego? Was it necessary? Does she hate me so much to do that? She got everything else, and the only thing I got in this life is Diego. Why does she want everything?”
She tried to take revenge having an affair with Leon Trotsky. He was a close friend of Diego and was trying to get political asylum in Mexico. In that time Leon Trotsky was living at Diego’s house. After that, Diego became violent and jealous, until she decided to definitely divorce him.
At that moment she was painting “The two Fridas”. In one side we can see a Frida with a Mexican dress (Diego’s favorite dress). When Diego and Frida moved to different countries, Diego was so proud of being Mexican and it was his idea that she could wear those dresses, so she looked different to all the European girls, she looked “exotic” and got all the attention at every party.
She has a painting of Diego in her hands. We can see a vein coming out from Diego’s painting to a healthy and strong heart, but at the same time is connected to the broken heart.
In the other side she is wearing an European dress. This dress is very similar to the dress she was wearing during the accident. It may represent her European roots and the woman she was before meeting Diego. Her heart and her dress are ripped off.
Although she has a strong heart, it is still connected to the old Frida (maybe the connection is her sister), and if the old heart is bleeding, it will end up killing the new Frida too. She tries to be a new Frida, but the old Frida is still there.
Another meaning of the painting maybe the struggle between a Frida in love with Diego, wanting to stay on his side against the European Frida, with a broken heart, the one who wants to get divorced and “cut off” the pain.
Again we see a stormy sky. The floor is dry but not as arid as in the other paintings.
She painted “The Wounded Little Deer”, showing how every infidelity was hurting her, until she “died”, or he killed the love. She is not crying anymore, her eyes show no more feelings. After years of marriage, she divorced Diego. He tried to get her back several times, but she couldn’t forgive him.
After that, she painted “Self-portrait with cropped hair”. She transformed into a man, and had multiple affairs with women. She was in a stage of confusion and depression, and then she painted “Thinking about death” and wrote: “Now I know how it feels to be sad and how it feels to be dead”. She spent her time at home drinking alcohol.
In all her paintings Diego was symbolized by the Sun. Her world moved around him, who gave warmth and light to her life. The moon means her female lovers. After that time, she declares herself as bisexual and every painting is divided in 2 parts, where we can see a Sun and a Moon.
After painting “The Two Fridas” she became very famous in Europe and was hired as art teacher in Mexico City. She wasn’t able to go to the school and teach, so students went to her house every day. It helped her to stop drinking alcohol and getting out of the depression. There she met young students she could help every time they were in trouble. Sometimes she “adopted” those students and they were even living in her house.
There was a special girl who had very violent parents, and wanted to run away from home, so Frida received her in the house and helped her until she was able to work by herself. The girl was always so grateful to Frida. People supposed that they had a romantic relationship, but they didn’t. Frida didn’t care about the rumors, she wrote on her diary: “It doesn’t matter what people think about me. I only care about a girl who doesn’t deserve violence. She is safe now and it is all I care. There is another girl, she is a teenager and is pregnant, and her parents were so angry and threw her to the streets… I can’t let that happen. I will support her and her baby until the end. But people say that I want “to steal her baby, because I can’t have my own babies. I can’t believe how stupid people can be”.
This job and the opportunity to help people, was very helpful for her. She painted “Tree of hope, remain strong”. In this painting we can see 2 Fridas. In one side is the Sun (Diego). There is a desert, nothing can grow in that desert, and everything is already dead. She is in a hospital bed, wounded and bleeding. On the other side, she is wearing her red dress and jewelry, she looks healthier. She took off a corset and she is wearing another one. She has a sign in her hand saying “Tree of hope, stay strong.”
Due to political problems, Diego moved to New York. There he had lots of affairs and couldn’t get in a serious relationship. He had so many troubles on every job he found. Most of those problems were due to his political opinions. Quickly he lost all his money and reputation. He wanted to live in the United States, he didn’t want to go back to Mexico but he was almost homeless.
In this time Diego had health problems in his eyes; he was really sick and needed a dangerous surgery. He was expecting to be blind after the surgery, and was in a deep depression.
Frida needed a surgery too, so she went to California looking for the best surgeon. In California, her doctor asked for Diego’s health. She didn’t know anything and was so surprised. When she knew about all his troubles she went back to Mexico, she sold some of her paintings and belongings and traveled to visit him in the hospital.
She entered the room while he was still asleep. Seeing him so helpless really hurt her. So she asked for a surgery in that hospital immediately. After the surgery, she asked to be moved to the same room. Doctors said “He has to be in complete darkness for a week, do you really want to do that?” And she agreed. But she didn’t tell anything to Diego.
The next day, when Diego woke up, he said: “Everything is dark… Oh God… Am I blind? How can I know if I am blind? This will drive me crazy! How do you expect me to wait here for a week without knowing if I am blind?”
In that moment, she took his hand and said: “Because I am by your side… Don’t worry”.
She realized how much he needed her, but she couldn’t completely forgive him. After a couple of months, they got married again. Everybody was so surprised and even angry. People asked her again and again: “How can you forgive him?”. And she always said: “We are a good influence to each other”. But nobody could understand that.
They came back to México, and worked together. She was in charge of the money. She made sure that Diego worked properly, because he used to stop working for a long time, until he had no money, and then when he was “inspired” he worked for weeks without eating or even sleeping.
They went to parties and events together as a couple.
Once they went to a party in Paris. There was full of artists, politicians and high society people from the entire world. During the dinner, they were talking and making jokes about the people who weren’t there. Diego always wanted to be part of the high society, so he was really happy there. At some point of the conversation, Frida realized that they were making fun of Diego, but he didn’t notice it. She got angry and told him. Diego got angry too and wanted to leave in the middle of the dinner, but she told him that he couldn’t do that as far as they didn’t offend him directly.
In that moment another famous painter (was him Siqueiros? I can’t remember) said: “Diego, there is full of famous painters, who do you think is the best among us?”
Diego immediately said: “Frida” And everybody laughed at him. The other painter said: “How can you say that? You have the best painters here and you say that!! She is not a real artist. Give me one reason to say that she is better than us”
Diego said: “Have you see her eyes in her paintings? None of us can draw that expression, not even me. It doesn’t matter how much you try and how many details you paint, she can draw more expression with just a pencil. Do you know why you can’t paint like her? Because the art is a way to express the own feelings and all of you, my dear friends, you don’t have feelings. You are already dead inside. If you prefer to spend your night in a ridiculously expensive dinner, around people you hate, and the only way to have fun is to offend others… My dear friends… it means that you only have shit instead of feelings. She has feelings and she can show those feelings in her paintings and that way, this woman became a better painter than all of you together. Plus… she has more guts than you do, because she is really interested in politics and helping people, while you are here drinking wine and ignoring the reality outside of your little fake world. Keep dreaming about a perfect world full of elegant dresses and banquets and being surrounded by “friends”. We prefer the real life, where people are real friends and real couples. Good bye.“
Then Diego spitted on the other painter’s face and left.
She always took care of him and his belongings. He wanted a museum and she did everything to make that dream true. He made sure she didn’t drink and had everything she wanted. She was happy having animals in her house, like monkeys, dogs and parrots, but sometimes she was sick and couldn’t take care of the animals. He took care of Frida after every surgery, until she died while he was holding her hand.
After Diego’s death, Frida’s diary was found. In that diary she wrote about their relationship after the divorce. She wrote about the time they spent together in the hospital before getting married again. They made an agreement to live together and take care of each other, without any romantic or sexual relationship. They agreed that they were a good influence for each other, but cheating and jealousy was destroying them, so they decided to help each other, but everyone can have their own partner. That way both could take care of their belongings and money, because Diego used to give all his money to prostitutes, and Frida spent everything on alcohol. She wrote how they became stronger together and how she always felt so worried about him. Even if they weren’t a couple anymore, they wanted the best for each other.
She wrote: “I hate when people without a life spend their time asking stupid questions. After the divorce, they wanted to know if I had a new boyfriend, or if we could come back or they still told me about everything he did, even if we were not a couple anymore. It really bothers me. Diego told me how he felt the same way. So we decided to come back and there were no more questions to us.Nobody knows about our real life, so the questions cannot bother us.”
They had two houses that looked like one house. Both houses were identical, mirrored. In case they wouldn’t like to live together anymore. Another reason was to make sure that no one was richer than the other. As far as they didn’t need each other, they could be together just because they wanted to, and not because they needed to…
Every time they were mad at each other, everyone had their own house, their own money, their own belongings, but at the same time, they were close in case of an emergency.
At the end, they kept loving and taking care of each other on their very own way.
It is very interesting to see Frida as one of the most enigmatic woman, and at the same time, one of the most transparent. She was a woman ahead of her time, but who loved so much the ancient cultures.
As I said first… she is very different to me, but somehow, it’s very easy to sympathize with her.