Frida Kahlo’s iconic face nicely splits up the Instagram feeds of teenage girls nowadays. She has been the subject of mainstream t-shirts, iPhone cases and accessories- and has become the poster girl of today’s art hoe. But she’s also a lot more than that, and there’s a reason so many young people are hopping on the Frida bandwagon and using her as a means to express themselves.
Frida Kahlo was a strong woman. Her raw depictions of female suffering were ahead of her time and made her into a feminist icon. She exceeded all expectations for a woman living in her time and situation. Her work dealt explicitly with themes like sexuality, miscarriage and abortion. She intensified her unibrow and moustache with a pencil to rebel against feminine beauty ideals. Her life was riddled with physical limitation, suffering from polio in early childhood and being seriously injured in a bus accident as a teen which later deemed her infertile. She overcame her constant battle through art, later saying “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” All these limitations, paradoxically seem to have permitted her the freedom to live the life she’d envisioned.
Her love affair with renowned muralist Diego Rivera was iconic and a major theme throughout her works. His infidelities, particularly with her younger sister were a great source of pain for Frida, she once said, “I have suffered two grave accidents in my life: one in which a streetcar knocked me down…the other accident is Diego.” Although, she was no martyr herself, her affairs beginning with women and later with men (notably Marxist revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky), as she grew tired of Diego’s unfaithfulness.
The two fascinated me and I found the perfect opportunity to explore their lives and works at the Art Gallery of NSW’s biographical exhibition, Frida and Diego. This exhibition was a sellout, both because of her modern significance in pop culture and her artistic significance in history.
The exhibition presented 33 masterpieces from the renowned collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman, including her famed self-portraits and drawings, and major examples of Diego Rivera’s canvas paintings. Alongside these works were 50 photographs by figures such as Edward Weston, Lola Alvarez Bravo, and Frida’s father, a timeline of major events and archival footage of Frida, which provided insight into the artists’ worlds and their intriguing relationship.
Her paintings are mostly self-portraits, and it’s a proof of her brilliance that she was able to say so much in so many different ways with one subject. Through my photos, I wanted to capture the essence of the exhibition. The powerful imagery and paintings that stood out as the people rushed past, the way people connected with her. One thing that stood out in all of my photos was her stare. A face that choose not to be defeated.
Today, Frida Kahlo is a way to express feminism in a way that isn’t blatant and taboo. Let’s face it, if you like her, you’re probably into female empowerment. Her iron gaze is that of a fighter, and is being used in a way to low- key keep feminism alive in a day and age where women are ridiculed for continuing to strive for equality. Her photographs show strength, her self-portraits show strength, and as a young woman today, what would I like to be other than strong?