Frida Kahlo, capturing her pain in painting and photography

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BUENOS AIRES – The Tercer Ojo (Third Eye) at the MALBA Museum in Buenos Aires, showcasing one of the most remarkable art collections in Latin America, will give visitors a glimpse into the lives of two famous Mexican painters of the 20th century, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera .

Kahlo turned to painting to escape years of acute back pain and is often associated with the surrealists of her time. The exhibit includes photos taken by her father and others, showing private moments in the life of a passionate woman who became an icon of modern popular culture.

In 1929 Kahlo married Rivera, a towering figure in modern Mexican art and in particular, muralism. Throughout her life as an artist, she remained in his shadow.


Privately, the couple had a vibrant if not stormy relationship, with infidelity on both sides, in part due to Kahlo’s constant back pain after an accident in 1925, which left her greatly depressed.

But there was deep affection, and it lasted. She once wrote in her diary: “No one will know how much I love Diego. I don’t want to hurt him, upset him or deprive him of that energy he needs to live. Just as he wants “If I had health, I would give him everything. If I had had youth, he could take everything. I am not only his mother, but the embryo, the germ, the first cell which engendered his possibility. .

Frida’s life in pictures

A stellar piece on display is a very late self-portrait of Frida (1949), Diego and you (Diego and me). Nearby, a display case contains letters and photographs from Frida’s private and family life, showing her with her mother and sisters, with a bun or in Mary Jane shoes, spontaneously or in a formal pose, bedridden, and the charming family home, the Blue House in Coyoacán, south of Mexico City.

Some of the images come from the famous Costantini collection, the subject of the third eye exhibition, and some belonged to the late Argentinian art critic Raquel Tibol. They were variously taken by Guillermo Zamoraunknown photographers, or Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, a successful photographer of his time.

Painting and communist activism become acts of resistance against disease.

Guillermo was born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo in Pforzheim, Imperial Germany, in 1871. He changed his first name when he arrived in Mexico in 1891. In 1901 he opened a photo studio in Mexico City and over time received government work. Kahlo enjoyed photographing his four daughters, Matilde, Adriana, Frida and Cristina, and Frida’s mother, his second wife Matilde Calderón.

Images from one case include scenes from childhood, when Frida was happy despite her already fragile health (she had polio when she was six years old). Another batch of photos shows her as a bedridden adult, painting on a canvas next to her bed.

For Frida, painting and her communist militancy become acts of resistance against disease. The couple famous befriended Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who fled Russia and lived for a time in Coyoacán, where he was assassinated in 1940 by an agent of Joseph Stalin.

Immense suffering as a subject of art

Frida had only three exhibitions of her work in her lifetime (but 32 surgeries to repair her back) and was relatively unknown when she died in 1954. Posthumously, she became a popular culture favorite, which shed new light on his work. .

Between 1950 and 1951, she wrote: “I was sick for a year. Seven spinal operations. Doctor Farill saved me. He gave me back my joy of living. I’m still in a wheelchair and I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk again soon. I have the plaster corset which, although awful, helps with my spine. The pains are gone. Just fatigue (…) and very often despair, which is natural. No words can describe this despair, and yet I want to live. I started to paint.”

The image Diego and me reveals three situations: Frida’s “devotion” to Diego, the immense pain of her disabilities, and a suffocating sense of helplessness (her hair is often painted engulfing her neck).

Does this refer to suicide, which a biographer claims was the cause of his death in 1954? She wrote five months before her death: “They amputated the leg six months ago. I’ve been through centuries of torture and thought I’d lose my mind sometimes. I still feel like killing myself,” she said. “Diego is the one stopping me and I’m vain enough to imagine it’s because he might miss me. He told me so and I believe him.”

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