Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán on the southern outskirts of Mexico City in 1907. Her father, Guillermo, was an atheist German immigrant photographer, her mother, Matilde, a fervent Catholic of mixed Spanish and Native American descent from Oaxaca. Frida’ s mixed heritage was seen as the undercurrent for the prevailing theme of identity in her work, and her divided loyalties to Mexico and Europe.
After contracting polio at the age of six, which left her convalescing at home for nine months, she then almost died at the age of 18, following a bus crash. It was at this point, in 1925, when she was again bedridden and isolated, that she began to paint. The defiant, unapologetic gaze of her self portraits asserts her right to exist, and her refusal to be a victim. The face is as passive as a religious icon, however the symbols in her work unmask fervent psychological undertones.
Kahlo painted self portraits she said ‘ because I am so often alone, I am the person I know best.’ Her continued ill-health following the accident, including several miscarriages, provided her with the anguish, disconnection and loneliness which compelled her to paint, as a way of quantifying her existence, re-affirming her position in the world, and cementing her identity as an artist. It left her pre-occupied with mortality and trapped in a battle between her body and mind.
Her experiences also left Kahlo with a profound neediness, and desire for recognition, culminating in her life-long attachment to Rivera. She respected him and valued his opinion of her work enormously. She was Rivera’ s protector and protected. He encouraged her to take great pride in being Mexican; she wore the traditional Tehuana costume, rebozo shawls, and braided her hair to please him, and continuously sought his approval and love, despite many infidelities on both sides (famously his affair with Kahlo’ s sister Cristina, and her affair with Leon Trotsky.)