Frida Kahlo’s art demands my attention every time I see it. I would try to describe it, but I can’t do it justice, so I’m sharing a painting from a book below. I’m also sharing a photo of her (below, right); when I need inspiration, I look at this photo. And when I think of self-advocacy, I often think of her.
Frida was a self-portrait artist born on July 6, 1907, in Mexico City, Mexico. She’s well known for both her art and her political activism, as well as her marriage to Diego Rivera, another artist. Her work and her life inspire me for three main reasons:
- She defined her own unique voice with no apologies.
Frida developed a unique and unmatched style of painting. Many people labeled her as a surrealist painter. She rejected that label; surrealist paintings are inspired by dreams and imagination. She explained that she painted her reality. Her paintings translated her reality into a visual form. By doing that, she showed the world who she was and what she thought. She claimed her voice and used it on her own terms.
- Frida adapted to overcome barriers to her work.
Physical pain and discomfort were constant in Frida’s life. She had polio as a child. As a teen, she was thrown from a wrecked streetcar and impaled with a metal bar. Her life became a series of surgeries, with prolonged periods in bed, often spent in uncomfortable braces for her back and neck. Others may have coddled her and expected little of her life. She was not having that. Nothing stopped Frida from painting. She had a special easel made so that she could paint in bed. She was determined to continue, no matter what. Frida went on to become a creative icon and still is, decades after her death.
- She used her artistic voice with courage and purpose.
Frida painted subjects that were extremely rarely seen, if ever, in an art world dominated by men. She painted the pain of her divorce. She painted the miscarriage that ended her pregnancy. She painted domestic violence. These paintings were raw and vivid. She took private, uncomfortable subjects and put them in the public view. Such art must have been shocking in society; these topics are still considered by many to be too private to discuss openly. Yet, these subjects impact so many people, so deeply, that art seems a natural way to address them. This is especially true given the thoughtful treatment that she gave to the subjects. Frida’s courageous use of her clear-eyed and direct art to illuminate women’s experience was advocacy genius.
The inspiration that I get from Frida Kahlo’s art refreshes me. Advocacy can sometimes feel dry. We plan our strategies. We write our elevator speeches. We follow up. I won’t stop doing those things, and I won’t stop teaching them. But I will always seek inspiration in unexpected places, and I look forward to sharing them with you.