Frida Kahlo

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Image of a naked woman split in half vertically by a metal column, with straps across her body.
The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo, photograph by Ambra75

Frida Kahlo or Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón (1907–1954) was a famous Mexican artist who suffered ill health and pain throughout her life, often representing it in her paintings.[1][2] Kahlo was born with spina bifida, and developed poliomyelitis at age 6, which left her with reduced strength and infections affecting her right leg, which was shorter than the other.[3]

Art representing pain[edit | edit source]

Frida Kahlo was famous for her colorful self portraits.[4] She often represented her physical and emotional pain in her self-portraits, including her spinal pain, her anguish during a miscarriage, and all-over body pain.[5] Kahlo begin painting from bed, during the months she was recovering from the streetcar accident that almost killed her.[3] She also kept a diary, sometimes painting in watercolor next to her writing.[6]

What the Water Gave Me[edit | edit source]

Alternatively known as What I Saw in the Water, Frida is shown in a bath, with a bleeding toe and her right foot shows abnormalities common to the spina bifida she was born with.[3]

Her right leg has a volcano over it, with lava streaming from the top, which may represent either burning or unpredictable chronic pain in her right leg, which suggests nerve pain.[4] Her right foot had been crushed during the streetcar accident, and the pain in her right leg could be the rest of post-polio syndrome, which commonly causes moderate to severe pain although Frida had polio as a child or is not known whether she had post-polio syndrome.[4]

The Broken Column[edit | edit source]

The Broken Column shows the impact of the streetcar accident, with her injured pelvic area, a metal handrail from the streetcar had pierced womb, which would later result in her being unable to bear children.[6] The Broken Column shows her spine replaced by a metal column and the straps of the medical corset she was forced to wear while recovering. It has been noted that the facial pain it shows could not have been caused by her spinal injury.[3] She painted The Broken Column while wearing a steel corset and unable to sit unless she was tied top the back of a chair. She would spend years bedbound or using a wheelchair, with her spinal and leg pain in particular steadily increasing.[3]

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird[edit | edit source]

Frida is shown wearing a thorn necklace held by a black monkey. The thorns pierce her neck, causing bleeding. She has a calm and solemn expression, "patiently enduring the pain".[5][7]

The Wounded Deer[edit | edit source]

Frida's body is a deer, with her chest and spine pierced by arrows. She painted it immediately before spinal surgery, which she hoped would cure her pain. She gave it as a gift to a friend who has recommended the surgeon who helped his back pain.[6]

Marxism will give health to the sick[edit | edit source]

This was one of Kahlo's last paintings. After over 30 surgeries during her lifetime, her right lower leg was amputated due to gangrene, after a lifetime of sores, infections and ulcers. Kahlo probably had fibromyalgia by this time and she was fatigued, depressed and suicidal. In the painting she wears a metal corset to support her spine, ans the painting expresses hope from politics.[3]

Her greatest appeal is her strength in adversity. Her chief subject was pain, pain caused by the slow deterioration of her body due to injuries suffered when a streetcar plowed into the bus she was riding when she was 18, and pain caused by her turbulent 25-year marriage to Diego Rivera who deceived her often -- even with her favorite sister -- and who divorced her once for a year. Frida confronted the pain of her 35 or so surgical operations and her sorrow over not being able to bear a child by projecting it into paint. She made light of Rivera's philandering and forgave him, saying "I do not think the banks of a river suffer by letting the water run."[5] — Hayden Herrera, ART VIEW; Why Frida Kahlo Speaks to the 90's, New York Times (1990)

Fibromyalgia[edit | edit source]

Frida Kahlo suffered from chronic pain, which had various causes including horrific injuries from a streetcar accident as a teenager,[4] plus additional pain, and it was likely that she suffered from fibromyalgia.[2][8]

Symptoms consistent with fibromyalgia reported by Frida:

  • Chronic pain in areas without injuries, e.g. both arms and her face as shown in The Broken Column
  • Pain on both sides of the body, above and below the waist
  • Fatigue
  • Severe pain
  • She had depression, which is very common in people with fibromyalgia
  • She may have developed allodynia, which is common in people with fibromyalgia[9][10]

News and feature articles[edit | edit source]

Films[edit | edit source]

  • Frida (2002) starring Selma Hayek

Books[edit | edit source]

  • 1983, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, by Hayden Herrera
  • 1991, Frida Kahlo: The Paintings, by Hayden Herrera
  • 1995, The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-portrait, by Carlo Fuentes and Sarah M. Lowe

Websites[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Learn more[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Frida Kahlo | Biography, Paintings, & Facts". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved December 5, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Martínez-Lavín, M.; Amigo, M. C.; Coindreau, J.; Canoso, J. (March 2000). "Fibromyalgia in Frida Kahlo's life and art". Arthritis and Rheumatism. 43 (3): 708–709. ISSN 0004-3591. PMID 10728769.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Budrys, Valmantas (2013). "Frida Kahlo's Neurological Deficits and her Art". In Boller, François (ed.). The Fine Arts, Neurology, and Neuroscience: Neuro-Historical Dimensions. Elsevier. pp. 241–254. ISBN 978-0-444-62736-0.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Courtney, C.A.; O'Hearn, M. A.; Franck, C. C. (2017). "Frida Kahlo: Portrait of Chronic Pain". Physical Therapy. 97 (1): 90–96. doi:10.2522/ptj.20160036. ISSN 0031-9023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Herrera, Hayden (October 28, 1990). "ART VIEW; Why Frida Kahlo Speaks to the 90's". New York Times.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Demonte, Nicola (October 28, 2019). "Portrait of Pain: Frida Kahlo". In Patterson, Jennifer; Kinchington, Francia (eds.). Body Talk in the Medical Humanities: Whose Language?. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 207–215. ISBN 978-1-5275-4232-7.
  7. "Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, By Frida Kahlo". Retrieved December 5, 2021.
  8. Caldwell, Ellen C. (April 28, 2018). "Did Frida Kahlo Suffer From Fibromyalgia?". JSTOR Daily. Retrieved December 5, 2021.
  9. Wolfe, Frederick; Clauw, Daniel; Fitzcharles, Mary-Ann; Goldenberg, Don; Katz, Robert; Mease, Philip; Russel, Anthony; Russel, I.Jon; Winfield, John; Yunus, Muhammad (May 2010). "American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Preliminary Diagnostic Criteria for Fibromyalgia" (PDF). Arthritis Care & Research (PDF). 62 (5): 600–610. doi:10.1002/acr.20140.
  10. "Fibromyalgia". American College of Rheumatology. Retrieved November 27, 2021.