Artists, Painters

Frida and Feminism

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón, was a Mexican painter and one of the most famous and remembered women artists.

Her artistic work used to be about her own life and experiences. She painted more or less 200 works, most of them was self-portraits where she exposed her own suffering and the difficulties she had to face to live. It’s evident the importance of Mexican culture in her work, especially Mexican folk art and indigenous tradition had influenced many of her paintings. She is celebrated internationally as a symbol of Mexican and indigenous traditions.

But Frida is not only remembered by her artistic work, many people have her as a feminist icon. But why Frida is considered by many an icon of feminism?

As the concept of feminism is about freedom and acceptance of individuality, things that Frida had stood for. However, she never called herself a feminist. She influenced feminism through the art she produced and by setting an example for modern women (artists or not). She was a strong woman that dared to express her genuine personality regardless of judgments. To our modern understanding of feminism, her example is inspirational to the movement.

Here are some examples of how Frida’s life inspire many modern women:

    • Public bisexuality: She took pride on her sexuality. Throughout her marriage to Rivera she had multiple affairs with both men and women. She never made any apologies or excuses for her sexual choices, a bold act for her time. Josephine Baker, Paulette Goddard and Leon Trotsky are some of her affairs.
  • Defying gender stereotypes: during the 1900s women were expected to be housewives. Frida attended a co-educational school, what was unusual in those days. Frida was a rebel, she appeared for family photos wearing men’s clothes contrasting with her sisters and mother who wore dresses. She also smoked, boxed and challenged men drinking tequila.
Frida wearing men’s clothes with her family
  • Defying female beauty standards: she didn’t care to fit the norm. she kept her “masculine” features untouched (she didn’t pluck her eyebrows and moustaches). she also exaggerated these features in self-portraits. However, she embraced her femininity by wearing colourful dresses and decorating her hair with braids and flowers.
Self-portrait with thorn necklace – 1940
  • Exploring real intimate female experiences in her artwork: female experiences like miscarriage, pregnancy, menstruation, breastfeeding, infertility, sexual organs were private, but Frida publicized them in her paintings. She chose to paint raw and real experiences of women’s life. Frida takes the viewer inside a woman’s mind and let them examine the fears, suffering, and passions that were secretly hidden inside.
Henry Ford Hospital – 1932
  • Defying destiny: Frida experienced an enormous amount of suffering throughout her life (contracting polio at age six, suffering from spina bifida, at the age of 18 suffering a car accident that left her unable to bear children). She started to paint when she was bedridden for months after the accident. She changed the pain and suffering into passion on the canvas. Even though a sense of despair is always present in her self-portraits, we can see that her glance remains strong. What her example demonstrates is that pain is part of life, but we decide if it will define us or not, it’s our choice.
The broken column – 1944
  • Embracing her weirdness: one of the reasons why her work is so important in art history, is because it is completely different from everything that preceded it. Her work, just like her, is unique.
  • Atheism: Although she was born in a country with strong Catholic traditions she was an atheist.