Frida Kahlo. She of the unibrow and colorful dresses. Although I recognized her name and have seen multiple pictures of her work, usually self-portraits complete with unibrow and colorful dresses, I never actually paid close attention to who she was and why she was such a big deal. They even made a movie about her, starring Salma Hayek.
A blue-walled museum dedicated to her located in the cozy neighborhood of Coyoacan opened my eyes. This museum was formerly the home of Kahlo’s and her husband, famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. I dislike large museums because I lose interest about an hour in and realize I only covered 25% of it. But the Frida Kahlo museum was just the perfect size. After all, it was a home, albeit a large one with plenty of rooms, halls, and a massive backyard, perfect for any creatives who need space, fresh air, and solitude.
So what’s the big deal about this museum visit and why am I writing about it?
I think it’s because I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick and this museum showed me what made this person tick. I walked past her self-portraits, smirking inside my head at how self-absorbed she was to focus on painting herself most times. (She was the original queen of selfies. No doubt that if she had lived through our age, her Instagram would be filled with plenty of selfies taken by her iPhone.)
But I started reading excerpts of her life story spread across the museum. The more I read, the more my perspective changed about her. I did not realize she was disabled. She had polio as a child, causing one of her legs to shrivel. She had a bad accident at 18 which broke her body badly resulting in a lifetime of surgeries and also the inability to have a child within her loveless marriage to Rivera.
And she had to hide it all; the pain, the embarrassment, the hopelessness. She wore corsets designed to support her spine and hid everything behind her beautiful dresses which covered up her broken body. But one thing that stood out was her steely-eyed determination you saw from her self-portraits. Her spirit was not broken. Her whole life, she was supposed to be just another woman who would become a wife to a husband and bear kids and stay home. She was supposed to fit a stereotype. But she didn’t want to. She wanted to become someone. And life wanted to break her but she didn’t let it.