The Arts

November 16, 2012

Twelve new things I learned about Frida Kahlo from Gregorio Luke

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Written by: Nydia O
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2010-01-01 00.00.00-8

Gregorio Luke, an expert on Mexican and Latin American art and culture, came to the Rio Grande Valley on an invitation from Mexican Consul Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas. Luke has presented his lectures in places such as Harvard University and the Smithsonian, and this week, the valleyites had a chance to listen to his lecture about one of the most famous artists in the world: Frida Kahlo.

As an amateur artist, I am no stranger to Frida Kahlo and her work, but through Luke’s lecture, I was able to connect with a more personal and strong Frida. I have always admired her work, but I also admire her  conviction, and for standing   by for what she believed while enduring much pain and suffering. Once the lecture concluded, it was obvious why this fascinating woman has become an icon for many artists and people around the world.


1-Her style. We see Frida dressed as an indigenous woman most of the time, but if we look closer we realize the way she dressed was not completely indigenous but a mixture of European and Mexican Indian. She also incorporated accessories from China and other Asian countries. For example, her Tehuana outfits – worn by women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec – which include lavish, embroidered hair pieces, were combined with flowers – an inspiration Frida got from European paintings of monjas coronadas. These portraits known as monjas coronadas were done for the family of a young woman as a novice nun – prior to taking the vows of nunnery – where she was depicted wearing a crown with lots of flowers. Some say that it was done this way to remember the woman in colorful attire since she was doomed to a life of black and white. During colonial times, most families had a daughter who embraced the path of the church.


2- Mexico has been a melting pot since colonial times and Frida’s family was the perfect example. A new race was conceived known as mestizo, and Frida identified herself as a mestiza. Wilhelm Kahlo, Frida’s father, was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant whose second wife, and Frida’s mother, Matilde Calderon, was a mestiza of European and Indian ancestry. Frida’s father was a photographer and an epileptic. Him and Frida used to go for long walks where she  took care of him – something that according to Luke, began shifting roles as Frida the caretaker, a trait that later recurred as Frida “mothered”  Diego Rivera even though he was more than 20 years her senior.


3- The best answer as to why she is so popular could be because she was the most Mexican of all artists. She did not allow anybody or anything to dictate her style. She was not an artist from 9-5; she was always an artist. From putting on her makeup, doing her hair etc. she gave her full attention just like with her works of art – her parties were lavish and detailed. From the food to the decor; another form of expression of her art . The letters she wrote were passionate and with  original  illustrations.

She refused to conform to the status quo – to be told how to dress – she created her own persona. Luke talked about how Frida took several hours to get ready.



4- Her tremendously strong spirit – her refusal to become the receptor of others’ pity – she never complained – her paintings said it all.


5- Towards the end of her life, her condition worsened and her pain enhanced. She became addicted to pain killers and alcohol. She said something I had not heard before but I really liked – “I drink to drown my sorrows, but the m#fu?%#s have learned to swim.”  She was very deep and sentimental – her love letters could melt even the strongest character.


6 – She was born following the death of her little brother, and her sister was born 10 months after her. Frida  was nursed by a wet-nurse. Luke talked about the time the wet-nurse was found drunk giving Frida reason to claim she was wet-nursed with high quality milk.



7 – The polio that afflicted her as a child confined her to bed for nine months becoming Frida’s first of a series of very unfortunate circumstances she had to endure throughout her life.


8- She painted for herself – to ease her pain and loneliness – her motivation, at least at the beginning, was not to sell her work. Frida began painting when her mother placed some paints and a canvas over her bed so she could be entertained while confined to bed.  According to Luke, it is hard to try to give meaning to all of her work, for it was done as an introspective of her own difficult life.


9 – September 17, 1925 – her horrible and well documented accident. – I did not know her father was in so much shock that he lost his speech for several days.


10- The “hand” earrings she is wearing in one of her self-portraits were a gift from Pablo Picaso.


11- Her husband Diego Rivera, had his doctor officially diagnose him of chronic unfaithfulness. He was sure he was physically incapable of being faithful.


12- Last but not least, something that I never knew about Frida is why she never removed her “mustache”. According to Luke, she considered it sexy. She is known to have once said that “Mujer con bozo, culo sabroso!”  I’ll leave the translation to you.

That certainly sounds like Frida!  

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About the Author

Nydia O
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.-Maya Angelou. La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" my life in the Rio Grande Valley. From this bi-cultural corner on the tip of Texas, I share my poems and my spiritual and travel experiences. I also blog about the arts, nature and my passion for historic preservation and architecture. But most importantly, let's talk about "la vida" - living our lives - in a vacation state of mind. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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