Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is Hispanic America’s most famous female artist. Like so many painters she put her own feelings and emotions into her art, but for many years she kept her most anguished feelings private in an illustrated diary.
The source of Frida’s
anguish was not her bisexuality but stemmed from a series of accidents that
left her permanently injured, both physically and mentally. Her diary
illustrates more than any other of her works why the Mexicans call her “la
heroina del color” – the heroine of pain.
At the age of 6 or 7 Frida
contracted polio which she disguised from everyone by wearing think woollen
socks over her withering leg. This led to her developing a limp and twisted
pelvis and unending pain.
Eleven years later Frida
and her boyfriend were involved in an accident involving an electric streetcar.
Frida was impaled on a metal handrail which smashed her twisted pelvis and
lower spine. She broke her collarbone and two ribs, and her already damaged
right leg was fractured in eleven places. Her boyfriend, trapped under the
streetcar, sustained relatively few injuries.
For the rest of her life
Frida’s injuries caused great pain, and she underwent over thirty operations
and spent many months in hospital. Despite the injuries to her pelvis Frida
became pregnant three times by her husband, fellow artist Diego Rivera. None of
the pregnancies reached their full term – one was a miscarriage, and the others
wee aborted. Perhaps she realised there would never be a safe birth for her
children. This was another cause of anguish for her.
Most of Frida’s art
reflected her various feelings and pains in her life, but in her personal diary
she wrote and drew her expressions of her deepest emotions.
It seems that she began
her diary in 1944. There’s no proper chronological order to the entries. Frida
wrote and drew what she felt at the time, frequently going back to past events
in her life. There are colourful drawings and collages, just as you’d expect
from Frida Kahlo’s work.
At first the diary appears
thoughtful and colourful. As Frida’s health deteriorated and she spent more
time in hospital the tone turned darker. She drew a childish doll with one
disembodied hand and eye falling to the ground. Above it she writes “Yo soy la
desintegración” (I am disintegration), as if Frida recognises her body is
Later, during her final
month, she depicts herself in ideal female form though a bold mauve line
dissecting her left leg at the knee representing the amputation of her leg due
to gangrene. The final drawing is of a dark angel of death.
A few months later, in
July 1954, Frida died. Officially the cause was pulmonary embolism, but it is
widely believed that it could have been suicide.
Frida’s diary, although
revealing her innermost feelings, has been known for many years. Its actual
content was seen by very few and kept secret from much of the art world. When
her former home in Coyoacán, Mexico, was turned into the Frida Kahlo Museum in
1958 the diary went on display. The executor of Frida’s estate, Dolores Oluedo,
had refused to display the contents to both researchers and the public. It took
decades before she was persuaded to have a photocopied version of the diary published.
Publishers battled over the right to publish the diary, with Abrams coming out
on top with an offer of an undisclosed 6-figure sum. Their version of the
facsimile diary was published last year.