Frida Kahlo: Who Was She Really?

“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” -Frida Kahlo 

Walking through modern day artisanal Mexican marketplaces and outdoor flea markets you’ll see one particular person’s face over and over again throughout. Keychains, t-shirts, coffee mugs, shoulder bags, shot glasses, and almost any other thing you can think of have thought up creative ways to display a legendary face in Mexican culture: Frida Kahlo.

But who really was Frida Kahlo? We all know she was a famous Mexican artist, who was married to famous muralist Diego Riviera. However, although her face and art are trending now, there are many who are unaware of her story, her immense suffering, and of why she continues to be an important icon in the worlds of art, feminism and fashion even nearly 65 years after her death.

Frida was born on July 6th of 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico City. At the young age of six, she was diagnosed with Polio and spent 9 months bedridden with the illness. The disease left its mark by causing one leg to be shorter than the other, although Frida later became known for the long, thick skirts that she would wear to divert attention from her legs.

Frida was a woman who challenged the status quo from a very early age. Her father was a progressive man, who encouraged her to express herself regardless of the established gender roles during the early 1900s. Frida wore men’s clothes, played sports, boxed, and even joined a gang in her teenage years. However, she had big ideas for her future and would commute by bus an hour each way to attend a high school where she could pursue her dream of being a doctor. Even her dedication to her professional future was unique about Frida. She lived during a time when young Mexican women were expected to focus on the home and family, not necessarily on a professional career.

Despite her commitment to her future career in medicine, a tragic traffic accident at the young age of eighteen changed the course of Frida’s life forever. One afternoon during her commute back from school, the bus she was riding collided with another vehicle which resulted in her being impaled by a handrail through her hip, rendering her permanently physically disabled.

The tragic accident not only ruined Frida’s dream of practicing medicine, but it also resulted in a lifetime of chronic pain that often left her bedridden. Nevertheless, during Frida’s three month recovery in a full-body cast, her parents arranged for an easel to be made so that she could paint from her bed in order to pass the time. It was during this time that Frida began her career as an artist that would lead her to travel around the world, and that leave a permanent mark on Latin culture and international art.

Frida’s art was unapologetically powerful, and she eventually became known in feminist culture for her deeply personal self-portraits that are thought to give a glimpse into the female experience. As an icon of female creativity, she expressed the physical and emotional challenges of chronic pain and womanhood, including her inability to bare children.

Throughout her life and tumultuous marriage to master muralist Diego Rivera, Frida was a political activist and party-going socialite. She was able to out-drink most men in tequila challenges, smoked cigarettes and really just simply did whatever she pleased. However, she also had a soft, feminine and nurturing side to her that can be seen in raw footage of her daily life.

Frida also had an unmistakable physical appearance. With high up-dos and flowers in her hair, long thick flowing skirts and layers of colorful traditional embroidered Mexican fabrics and regional textiles like the huipil, Frida represented her country by dressing in traditional clothing even while meeting world leaders alongside her revered husband. Her personal style is a part of her legacy, and has influenced the designers in the world of fashion like Raffaella Curiel, Dolce and Gabbana and of course, Erica Maree.

Frida left her mark on the world by being one of the first 20th century Mexican artist to have their art bought by The Louvre, and is known for breaking the status quo by not just settling in as “the wife of a master muralist.” Her courage, strength, resilience and outspoken nature made her an icon in the world of art, feminism and fashion. The name and face of Frida Kahlo continues to live on more than six decades after her death in 1954, and her story of hardship and of freedom of expression will remain in our hearts forever.

Here at the Erica Maree studio, which doubles as a bohemian fashion and accessory shop in beautiful Puerto Vallarta, we believe in the value of supporting artisans whose handicrafts have been passed down for generations. Each one of our pieces is created by hand with heart and soul, and provides fair labor wages for artisans in order to keep the magic of traditional Mexican hand embroidery alive.

As always, thanks for shopping handmade!