Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter of the 20th Century. She painted many self portraits in a naive folk art style to explore a variety of Mexican pop Culture issues. Her paintings mixed elements of realism and fantasy, consequently, making them topics of strong autobiographical elements of her life. Her uncompromising depiction of the female form and experience makes Frida Kahlo a Feminist Icon in the art circles.
Left disabled by polio at the age of two, she also suffered grave injuries as a result of a bus crash that almost killed her at the age of 18. She was the patient who tolerated tough, physical pain and underwent more than 35 operations throughout her life. She took up painting at this time and, gradually, her paintings were influenced by the happenings in her life.
Frida Kahlo: Feminist Icon
What makes so many consider Frida Kahlo a Feminist Icon are the ways in which she stood up as a woman and did not allow her illnesses to inhibit her. She retained her true sense of self, and publicly used her work to explore many taboo topics of the time.
The following are reasons I greatly admire this iconic woman’s work.
1. She defied female beauty standards
As women, we are expected to be fair skinned, soft, feminine and cultured. Not Frida. She painted herself in her raw form. She kept her “masculine” features untouched. From the signature unibrow, to the slight mustache and unshaven armpits, it was vivid that she did not care about fitting with the norm.
2. Public Sexual Liberation
Frida was married to Diego Riviera, a fellow painter. Rivera and Kahlo did not have a traditional marriage and each of them had affairs. She had affairs with both men and women, including her husband’s mistresses.
They often separated, divorced once and remarried. Eventually, they resorted to having an open marriage.
3. Exploring Female Experiences
During the 1990s, female issues were often discussed in private. Publicizing them would be a trait that would be looked down upon. Frida rose above the rules by covering a lot of issues in her work. They ranged from miscarriages, to pregnancy, menstruation, breastfeeding and infertility. These are issues that embody the challenges of being a woman.
4. Politically Active
Despite being born in Mexico, a country that is traditionally Catholic, she identified as an atheist and a communist. She was also an active member of the Communist party. She believed that only through Communism can we become human.
Kahlo had strong political convictions that were inspired by Marxist ideology.
“I’m convinced of my disagreement with the counterrevolution—imperialism, fascism, religion, stupidity, capitalism and the whole gamut of bourgeois tricks. I wish to cooperate with the revolution in transforming the world into a classless one, so that we can attain a better rhythm for the oppressed classes.” – Frida Kahlo
5. Defying gender stereotypes.
The 1990s were a time where women had few rights and men were seen as the dominant sex. It was expected of women to stay at home and become housewives. Frida attended co-educational school, which was not only very highly unlikely but also unusual.
“There were only about five girls to 300 boys at the school, and Matilde (Frida’s mother) was outraged at the thought that one of them was to be her daughter.” – Isabel Alcantara
She wore her hair parted and pulled back, unlike other girls who would let their hair loose. She often wore men’s clothes and often challenged men to tequila drinking contest. A Queen!