Frida Kahlo (b. 1907–d. 1954) is recognized as not only one of the greatest artists of all time, but also as a global pop culture icon. Kahlo stands as a Mexican symbol (both she and her famous artist husband Diego Rivera are on the Mexican 500-peso note) and her image and reprints of her paintings are sold around the world in everything from museum shops to Target. Kahlo’s legacy extends beyond art and she stands as a strong figure of representation for many identities—including queer, disabled, female, and Mexican. Born into a middle-class family in the quiet Mexico City suburb of Coyoacán, Kahlo distinguished herself early on by attending the elite Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. It is here where Kahlo was first introduced to the nationalist ideals of indigenismo and mexicanidad and well as her lifelong commitment to communist principles. Kahlo’s school is also where she first saw Rivera. Critics often complain that Kahlo’s relationship with Rivera is overemphasized in the analysis of Kahlo and her work. In particular, critics are skeptical of the way that Kahlo’s heteronormative marriage is used to mask Kahlo’s lifelong sexual interest in women. Kahlo suffered a terrible trolley accident at the age of eighteen that almost killed her and left her with severe disabilities throughout her life. These persistent disabilities are a source of inspiration for Kahlo’s paintings as is her tumultuous relationship with Rivera. During her lifetime, Kahlo was known primarily as Diego Rivera’s wife even though she was the first Latin American artist to show her work at the Louvre in Paris. Despite the success, it wasn’t until the 1970s in connection with Chicana and feminist art movements that Kahlo was rediscovered and started growing into a significant global figure. Today the insatiable academic and popular interest in Kahlo is often dubbed “Fridamania” or “Fridolatry” or even “Kahloism.” Currently, Kahlo is the highest selling Latin American artist and her cultural and artistic influence continues to grow across the globe.
Critical and popular sources on Kahlo continue to be published on a regular basis. The most extensive biography is still Herrera 1983. However, recently some biographies have emerged that focus on specific geographical locations as they relate to Kahlo, for example Stahr 2020 and Petitjean 2020. Kahlo’s work has been compared to other female artists of her time, including in Udall 2000 (cited in Queer Frida). In addition to biographies, there are many critical book-length works including Lozano, et al. 2021. There are also many scholarly articles about Kahlo and her work. Significant among them are Bakewell 1993, Bergman-Carton 1993, Block and Hoffman-Jeep 1999, Helland 1991, and Zetterman 2006. Film adaptations of Kahlo’s life have also been important for analyzing her work and life: two of the most important are Frida and Frida Naturaleza Viva.
Bakewell, Liza. “Frida Kahlo: A Contemporary Feminist Reading.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 13.3 (1993): 165–189.
Bakewell examines the work and legacy of Frida Kahlo through the lens of feminism.
Bergman-Carton, Janis. “Strike a Pose: The Framing of Madonna and Frida Kahlo.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 35.4 (1993): 440–452.
Bergman-Carton explores the connections between the celebrity of Madonna and Frida Khalo and their impact on popular culture.
Block, Rebecca, and Lynda Hoffman-Jeep. “Fashioning National Identity: Frida Kahlo in ‘Gringolandia.’” Woman’s Art Journal 19.2 (1999): 8–12.
The authors take a look at Kahlo’s representation of Mexican identity through her self-presentation and clothing during her early years of marriage to Diego Rivera.
Helland, Janice. “Frida Kahlo: The Politics of Confession.” Latin American Art 3.4 (1991): 34–37.
Helland contends with Kahlo’s artwork as acts of confession and how they represent her as a woman, artist, and committed activist.
Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: Harper Perennial, 1983.
Currently the most complete biography of Frida Kahlo. The book traces the major moments and works that made Kahlo as an artist.
Leduc, Paul. Frida Naturaleza Viva. 1983. DVD. Mexico: Alter Films, 2003.
A historically rooted telling of Frida Kahlo’s life, emphasizing her strong connection to Mexican culture and politics, and featuring performances by Ofelia Medina, Juan Jose Gurrola, Salvador Sanchez, Max Kerlow, and Claudio Brook.
Lozano, Luis-Martín, Andrea Ketterman, Marina Vázquez Ramos. Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings. Cologne: Taschen, 2021.
Lozano, Ketterman, and Ramos present a intimate look into the paintings of Kahlo with the additional insight of significant contextual factors.
Petitjean, Marc. The Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris. New York: Other Press, 2020.
Petitjean looks at Frida Kahlo’s solo period in Paris when she greatly developed and grew as an artist.
Stahr, Celia. Frida in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020.
Stahr explores Frida Kahlo’s art and life through the years she traveled to the United States (San Francisco, Detroit, and New York) with her husband Diego Rivera.
Taymor, Julie, dir. Frida. 2002. DVD. New York: Miramax Home Entertainment, 2021.
A highly visual recreation of Frida Kahlo’s life with an emphasis on Kahlo’s vitality. Performances by Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Antonio Banderas, and Ashley Judd,
Zetterman, Eva. “Frida Kahlo’s Abortions: With Reflections from a Gender Perspective on Sexual Education in Mexico.” Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 75.4 (2006): 230–243.
Zetterman posits that what many have thought to have been miscarriages for Frida Kahlo were actually intentional abortions due to Kahlo’s deep ambivalence about motherhood.
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