Frida Kahlo’s face has been reproduced on countless shoes, pins, socks, t-shirts, jewelry… Her artwork has influenced films, paintings, literature, etc. In just a couple of decades, Frida has become a modern-day icon, whose image has been reproduced and copied across a range of various media, making her instantly recognizable in popular culture. However, this endless repetition seems to bring up an important question: is Frida’s iconification a tribute to her life or is it ultimately ridding her of her essence?
In the Eastern Church understanding of the word, ikon means a representation of a Saint, often for the purpose of worship. Frida, for all the suffering she endured in her lifetime, can be likened to a Saint: at the age of six she suffered from polio, which had many consequences on her physical growth. Later, at the age of 18, she was part of a bus accident that shattered her body, from her spine to her legs, and damaged her abdomen and pelvic cavity, making her unable to conceive. Following this traumatic event, Frida was hospitalized. Paralyzed and bedridden, she asked for a mirror to be placed above her and began the first of many self-portraits.
This resilience, and willingness – if not need – to create, marks her as an extraordinary individual. Frida was not only disabled, but a bisexual woman of color who liked to cross-dress. She challenged societal norms regarding politics, gender, and sexuality, always remaining faithful to her beliefs and values. All of these elements of her personality, along with her talent and creativity, explain her long-lasting legacy.
As does her relationship with Diego Rivera, who is present explicitly or implicitly in many of her paintings. We tend to romanticize the couple’s story, as two passionate artists who fall madly in love with each other, becoming inseparable regardless of their destructive dynamic.
Knowing where Frida came from and what she stood for is essential to pay homage to the painter. An independent, strong-minded individual, Frida was also a devoted communist opposed to capitalism and ‘gringo land’ (as she liked to call the United States). As a revolutionary, Frida would probably not have appreciated the commodification of her image, which massive corporations are currently profiting from.
Frida Kahlo must not simplistically be reduced to the status of prominent female artist, so as not to diminish this inspiring Mexican womxn’s identity.
Article by Inès Huet