Happy birthday, Frida Kahlo!

Today would have been the 102 birthday of Frida Kahlo, the painter famous for her striking self-portraits and her marriage to Diego Rivera (not to mention her impressive eyebrows). Though she came to be known for her representations of Mexican life and was, in fact, referred to as La Mexicana -- the quintessential Mexican woman -- her work often explored issues of identity and its hybridity, informed by her own experience as the daughter of a German Jewish immigrant father and a Mexican Catholic mother.

Kahlo's work was also informed -- one might even say preoccupied -- with the subject of pain and illness. A bus accident at the age of 18 severely injured Kahlo, leaving her with permanent disabilities. She began to paint during her recovery, while confined to her bed, using a mirror mounted on the ceiling so that she could serve as her own model.

Today I received the following reflection on Kahlo from Sanda Aronson, artist and founder of the Disabled Artists' Network:

"Frida Kahlo has been a hero to me, from a disability point of view.   I saw a large retrospective of her paintings, painting her pain, in the early 1980s, just as I was becoming ill with a severe disabling illness.  I started to cry in the gallery.  Luckily, only my future spouse and I were looking at the art... [Kahlo's] disability disappears from view: it's not evident in the US postage stamp, which makes me sad and angry.   It is ‘disappeared' from the doll that was being sold in recent years in the museum of women's artists of Frida Kahlo... I scolded, by mail, a male reviewer who continued distortions of both women and disabled persons, when stating that Kahlo was exploiting her ‘illness' for attention getting in her paintings, in the paper of record, in NYC, in the late 1990s."

Aronson's words helped me appreciate a new aspect of Kahlo's art, and reminded me how important it is that people see representations of their own experiences on the walls of public institutions and in the manufactured images of our heroes. Thank you, Sanda, for sharing your response to Kahlo's work and to her cultural representation. 

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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Happy birthday, Frida Kahlo!." 6 July 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 23, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/kahlo>.