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Frida Kahlo, by Guillermo Kahlo.jpg

For April, my ATC group opted to go with Mexican art as a theme.  Looking for inspiration and understanding, I came across a very colorful biography of Frida Kahlo.  Not only did it leave me with a longing to experience more Mexican art but I found myself pondering so much about feminism and the art world.

I want to share just a little about Frida, her story is so tragic and yet so inspiring.  As a child she contracted Polio.  The result was a leg that was misshapen.  This caused her some distress but nothing compared to the accident she had in her young adult years.  At age 18, Frida survived a bus accident.  Through some amazing combination of events, Frida was impaled – an iron bar went through her body, fracturing her pelvis and multiple other bones.  This left Frida crippled even further.  She would never be able to carry a child (she had a number of miscarriages).  She would spend the majority of her life in pain.

Despite all that, Frida was an active women.  She married the love of her life even though their relationship was completely unhealthy.  She traveled and she painted.  Frida often painted herself as a way of understanding herself.  Oh, and she was incredibly politically active.

While her politics were interesting, what I found the most interesting was all the female firsts she had.  She was the first female to have a painting purchased by the Louvre.

I was sure I read something about her being the first female artist to have a major exhibition but I can’t find support for that statement now.

The big thing about Frida Kahlo is she never tried to be anything but herself.  She dressed in ways that made her happy – from traditional mexican dresses to men’s trousers.  She painted what she thought was important without regard to anyone’s opinion.  She often was outspoken and didn’t feel like she had to “play nice” just to get people to like her.

While she wasn’t the happiest woman ever, she lived with a lot of pain, I believe she was as happy as she could be in her circumstances.  She didn’t back down from life.  She didn’t let her pain or her sex or her challenges keep her from living her life.

There are two major thoughts that go through my head when I read about her –

1. where are all the women in the art world?  It had never dawned on me prior to reading this that there is a whole history missing.  When I think about art prior to the mid 1800’s, I can’t think of a single female artist.  The irony is that art and creativity are now often thought of as a feminine activity.  Real men don’t do art even though it seems that men dominated the field for centuries.  (I recently read about a female sculptor in the 1800’s who was denied education as a sculptor because of her sex.)  Since this is a recent thought – I haven’t fully explored it.

2. I want to be that sort of woman.  I want to pour myself into art.  I want to live the life as I want to live it.  I don’t have to strive to please others if I am not pleasing myself.  Frida didn’t paint to be famous or to really even make money.  She made very little money on her art but that never stopped her.  She painted up until she died.  I have often said that I create because I have to, just like I have to breathe.  It’s nice to see someone else lived that way and was successful at it.  By successful, I mean she never let the outside voices stifle her creativity.  She didn’t let criticism stop her from painting.  She didn’t let pain or sadness stop her – she just poured it into her art and kept going.

I encourage you to take some time to read about this amazing woman.  She lived a fairly scandalous life and I don’t think it bothered her at all.

I’m going to take some time in the near future to watch the movie Frida with Selma Hayak, just to see how they interpreted her story and to have a better sense of the woman she was.