Frida Kahlo was a wonderful artist whose raw depictions of her experiences still resonate more than sixty years after her death.
My first introduction to Kahlo’s work was not through an art history lesson, as it is for many…it was through her eyebrows and lip hair. I gazed at those features and, while it didn’t stop me wishing my own Middle Eastern blessings away, it did make me feel a little better.
Kahlo faded from my life for over a decade, occasionally reappearing on my “Should Probably Know More About This” list—somewhere between the discography of Bob Dylan and the plot of King Lear.
I trundled through school before eventually moving to the city and starting university.
There’s a street in that city that is home to a lot of independent businesses. While walking there one afternoon, I spotted a new café, and it was an explosion of colour. I immediately wandered in.
A kind lady behind the counter welcomed me, suggesting I check out the gallery upstairs. I did, and adored the exhibit so much I couldn’t sleep that night, let alone forget the place in all its life-celebrating glory.
Suffice it to say, it wasn’t long until I’d somehow convinced one of the owners I was savvy enough to write for them.
One of the exhibits I wrote about was by a mother and daughter, and they had filled the gallery space with pinks, greens and turquoise. Seeing the daughter’s self-portraits hanging on the wall, I felt it was all very…well, Frida Kahlo-y.
I didn’t fully understand what that was, but of course I name-dropped mercilessly. It was when talking to the lady who had been behind the counter (who also ran the café), that I realised Kahlo meant a lot to many and, again, that I should get her off my “Should Probably Know More About This” list.
That same owner went on to run a frilly-knickers workshop, and made a pair with Kahlo’s face on them. They were hung up on the wall that I passed at least once a week. Somehow, this was still not enough of a sign for me.
A few months later, in the middle of interviewing one artist in the café, my phone kept going off. I felt rude but, by the third call, decided I should take it. Excusing myself, I stepped outside, listened to the news and held onto the blue doorframe of the café. The next few hours were spent in a haze, sat with this artist who was busy changing my world view, while all around us we were saturated by the warmest of colours. I look back at this time that could have been so grey, but instead, it is a glowing blue, sunny yellow and gold.
A couple months later, my life had turned upside down—the changes had come hard and fast, and I was travelling.
My cousin was backpacking through Europe at the time and, while in Portugal, had met an artisan making leather patches. One of these leather patches was of Kahlo’s face. My cousin gave it to me, telling me she thought it was something I’d love.
I told her I did.
I also admitted I wasn’t sure why, since I hardly knew anything about this woman whose face I was now carrying in my bag and in-between the pages of my book.
Enough was enough. After returning home, I found materials on Kahlo and began learning. Then, I fell in love. She came to mean so much to me—but not just because of her oh-so-human spirit, her heart-freeing art and the fact that she was both flowers and blood. I fell in love because Kahlo had lingered at my door for so long, and I had finally opened up.
I fell in love because I was slowly learning how to do this too.
I fell in love because it was all a glowing blue, sunny yellow and gold.
Some weeks passed, and I met with a then-stranger, now-friend. We sat at this fated café, sipping coffee and getting progressively shocked about the things we had in common. In the split second before I asked her if she liked Frida Kahlo, I saw Kahlo’s face peering at me from behind her hair.
She had Frida Kahlo’s face on her earring, and if that’s not reason enough to tell this story, I don’t know what is.
This is all that Frida Kahlo has brought to my life (including appearing in one of my dreams as my grandmother, shooting me with a tranquilizer dart and telling me to “calm the hell down!” after a particularly anxious day). And what does Frida mean to the owner of the café, to the daughter who exhibited her work, and to my friend with the Kahlo earring?
In this order:
Rosy Tydeman: “The minute I saw her image—secondly her work—I was captured. The pain and the passion and the intensity of her…that’s the way to live. Vibrancy, intensity, honesty. She wore her heart on her sleeve, and was so expressive and so real.”
Lally MacBeth: “Frida was the ultimate strong woman. To me, she represents independence and freedom; she wasn’t afraid to say it like it was. I’m particularly interested in her use of folk costume as it’s something I’ve long been inspired by too. She wove together costumes from across the globe in such a complex, modern way, and I’m sure this is why she inspires so many people now!”
Kezia Cochrane: “Frida Kahlo is a very inspiring, empowering woman. My relationship with her started in college, in Spanish class, where my teacher recommended I watch the film ‘Frida’. I’d studied Kahlo’s art a little before that, but I didn’t fully know her story until then. I didn’t realise how strong, independent and individual she was. After that, she was so inspiring to me. I love her aesthetic and colours, and how unashamedly herself she was.”
So, in the words of Frida Kahlo: long live life.
Author: Nickie Shobeiry
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain