Frida Kahlo was astonishing both as an artist and as a woman – in fact the two were, for her, inextricably linked. She was her own favoured subject and she painted countless self-portraits during her relatively short life, using the medium to express feelings about her body, her sexuality, her politics and her pain (she suffered from polio as a child and a road accident during her teens which left her body a wreck.) She said, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."
She developed a distinctive aesthetic, weaving together realism, surrealism and Mexican folk art and while her work was not particularly recognized during her lifetime, since her death and the subsequent exhibitions of her work and films of her life, she has become a celebrated 20th century icon.
Her own ‘look’ is part of the mythology – particularly her unashamed facial hair, which still challenges conventional notions of ‘femininity’ and ‘prettiness’ today. How can something as innocuous as a mono-brow or a moustache still unnerve people? It does, and when you see artists like KD Lang and JD Samson using facial hair as a subversive statement it suggests that nothing much has changed since Frida’s heyday.
The gaudy, colourful flowers she wore in her tightly braided hair contrasted with her strong, expressive features, each heightening the other. This was a woman who understood the power that is inherent in fashion and beauty and who knew how to use visual symbols to maximum effect. She wasn’t afraid of juxtaposing the frivolous with the unexpected and for that, as much as for her contribution to art, I admire her deeply.
Picture Credit: Rex Features