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Frida Kahlo, 1907 – 1954, is Mexico’s best-known figure; an acclaimed artist, an activist, a feminist, a bisexual and disabled person who dealt with tremendous physical pain and personal turmoil in her life. In dealing with that she was able to uniquely transmute all that raw feeling into her paintings and self-portraits, but she was only truly received as brilliant until after her early death at 47. The impact of Frida’s accomplishments can be felt throughout the world but most prominently in Marginalised groups, her brand and in the public personas developed by modern celebrities, also known as ‘Fridamania’.
Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacan, Mexico on the 6th of July in 1907 and died on the 13th of July in 1954 due to complications with her illness or suicide. Frida was born to a mixed heritage of Latin and Eastern European descent. Her downward spiral, in terms of physical health, started when she was 6 when she contracted polio and as a result, her right leg grew significantly weaker than her left. But her disability didn’t stop her from pursuing an education in medical science at the national preparatory school in Mexico city in 1922 where she was one of only 35 female students. While on the bus with school friends in 1925, Frida was involved in a tragic bus accident that severely damaged her body and caused her serious chronic physical pain and emotional pain for her entire life. After the accident, she spent 3 months in a full body cast and she taught herself how to paint in her disabled state to pass the time. Frida later met Diego Rivera in 1927 and asked him for advice on her paintings, he encouraged her and they soon started a romance that lead to them getting married, the marriage that followed was riddled with infidelity but they did, mostly, stay together until Frida’s early death. Frida Kahlo was also a dedicated communist, as she joined the Mexican communist party when she was very young, and her personal beliefs were heavily influenced by Karl Marx. The extreme modern interest in Frida Kahlo came with the rise of feminism in the 70’s and a re-evaluation of her work but her true entrance into the mainstream came with the release of a biography in 1983.
Frida Kahlo as a brand can be seen everywhere, from films, plays and operas to murals, books and shoes. The commercialisation of frida kahlo is indeed problematic and ironic, but you can nonetheless see her impact on the world through it. The adaption of Frida into and onto products and media has somewhat problematically whitewashed her and her ideals, she is seen as a cool arty feminist and her more controversial aspects, like her communist beliefs, disabilities and sexuality, have been largely ignored to make her more marketable. This image of Frida began in 1983 when her biography, that launched her into the mainstream, romanticised her and made her personal story more important than her artistic story, and therefore made her brand more accommodating for people. Currently, The Frida Kahlo Corporation own the rights to fridas likeness and name, many fans believe that they use her brand too liberally and are in it just for the money, with the release of notable ‘disrespectful’ licenced products like a whitewashed frida kahlo barbie, a Snapchat filter, and pads. The reason that the frida kahlo company get away with the excessive use of the license is because everyone buys the products. Frida is everywhere whether people know it or not, her influence is in fashion with Gucci, in various books on art/surrealism, opera, plays, ballet and biopics. Her impact is seen more literally in licensed makeup, alcohol, stamps, costumes, shoes, socks, lip balm, hats, and even fake monobrows. Frida and her brand have impacted the world, as seen in the thousands of frida products that exist, even though they debatably damage her artistic and ‘true’ image.
Frida Kahlo is an icon for marginalised groups like the LGBTQIA+ community, disabled community and Latinx, she has impacted them with her artwork, persona, fashion, sexuality and actions. Frida is seen as an icon for disabled people because of the many illnesses and physical hardships in her life, including her bought of polio, her tragic bus accident and what may have been spina bifida. Their perspective on her sees her presenting her disabilities frequently in paintings like ‘Self portrait with the portrait of Doctor Farill’ and ‘The Broken Column’ where you can see her in a wheelchair and in a medical corset. Frida is proclaimed as an icon for the LGBTQIA+ community because of her apparent affairs with both men and women and her expression of gender, sexuality and nonconformity in her paintings. Frida is known as an icon for all latinx people, because of her heritage, her use of mexican culture in her aesthetic and paintings, her known love for her country and her respect for the indigenous mexican people. All theses groups see frida in a different way but they are all impacted by her way of living, she did nothing else except from what she wanted to do, her use of taboo subjects in her artwork and manner mixed with her use of beauty and strength made them more accessible and acceptable and people identify with the strength that she had.
Frida Kahlo’s impact is seen in the public personas developed by contemporary artists, otherwise known as ‘Fridamania’. In Frida’s lifetime, she engineered and cultivated her image to make people think of her the way she wanted them to – a victim but also a survivor. She did this through her physical appearance; her unshaven unibrow and moustache, her traditional Mexican dresses, shawls and headpieces are iconic and were carefully thought out by Frida to convey to the world that she is nonconforming, brave, cultured and unique. She also nurtured her image through her actions in public and the rumours surrounding her welfare and sexuality, and her paintings that explore themes of femininity, sex, gender, race, imperialism, suicide, and miscarriage that always showed Frida with a strong, stoic facial expression. Fridamania involves the fascination or obsession of a celebrity, their life, pain and products. Frida is definitely a subject of this as she is still celebrated, mourned and bought 65 years after her death. In the contemporary era, she is an icon for many groups and people as they validate their struggles through their perception of her character, a person who struggled in life but stayed resilient, even though this character has been changed in recent years. Artists mimic what Frida did to cultivate a public image, they develop a ‘theatre of the self’, Madonna especially did this in the 90’s when she was actively promoting LGBTQI+ rights and releasing music like ‘Vogue’ in 1991 that exposed their community to the mainstream. She did this when it was still considered taboo. These actions mixed with her controversial ‘sexy Catholic’ aesthetic built her public persona as an unyielding rule breaker and a viable brand. Fridamania is seen impacting nearly all modern artists and ‘influencers’ personas as they mimic Frida’s tactics in order to present a character that they can play, allowing them to control their public image.
As seen above, Frida Kahlo’s impact can be seen in society prominently with her brand, in marginalised groups, and with Fridamania – the cultivation of public images by modern artists. Frida is an important intersectional figure, who continues to be an icon representing Mexico, the LGBTQI+ community, feminism and disabled people 65 years after her early death at 47. The now acclaimed artist dealt with intolerable pain while alive, from her damaged body, to her husband’s infidelity and survived, her lasting impact is attributed to her unique character, art style and fierceness and for that she will continue to impact lives and art for the rest of time.
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