For the last 5 months I have been living under Frida Kahlo’s shadow after being asked to make some art inspired by her life and work. I dove straight into my research keen to get started as I knew a little about her and I had always been a fan. As I researched further I started to feel a deep empathy for Frida. We have spent so much time together and with the intimacy of her work, I feel we are on first name terms. Nothing is held back you get every emotion and every experience all declared unapologetically. There is defiance in how she would not be silenced. I admire her bravery and the way she fought to keep her identity. She fought to be a successful artist in her own right despite being a Mexican woman in the first half of the Twentieth Century. She refused to be held back by her physical health suffering polio as a child and then a horrific tram crash at 18 in which Frida was seriously hurt, the effects of which dogged her for the rest of her life. Really no one has any excuse not to create when Frida would paint tirelessly in bed unable to move after her many operations to help treat the horrific injuries she sustained in the tram crash. In the same spirit she attended her only solo show in Mexica in 1953 close to death against strict doctor’s orders, diva like, lying in her bed carried in by four men making her show and her appearance a great success.
I become frustrated by people who dress up like her and treat her flippantly almost creating a caricature. She did have great style but she was more than that. She was grittier and more meaningful. Frida challenged what it was to be a woman; dared to be different, played with gender roles and challenged what it was to be a wife. She expressed her physical pain and emotional grief fearlessly in the public domain. Her husband the great communist mural painter Diego Rivera was repeatedly unfaithful and they did never have the baby Frida longed for after her many miscarriages.
To make your own work inspired by Frida Kahlo you have to visit your own pain. Frida took me down some dark alleyways. I had to go back to some difficult times and face up to some uncomfortable truths. Sometimes the process would be overwhelming and I would have to retreat completely. When the project became more resolved it was a relief to know I could choose to leave those emotions behind. The project became more about mental health and how I chose to cope with difficult times. Having worked through those hard times I felt lighter and I realised I wasn’t that person any more. I had moved on. I felt safe to leave the pain behind.