Frida Kahlo, a global legend

“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy as long as I can paint”

The worldwide success of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo shows no signs of ending. Suffice it to say that in 2017, while trying to enter the Guinness World Records, more than a thousand Frida Kahlo doppelgangers gathered at the Dallas Museum of Art to celebrate the 110th anniversary of her birth. Moreover, on the occasion of March 8, Snapchat released a series of filters dedicated to Frida, and around the same date the “FridaMoji” were launched, that is a number of Emoji\ inspired by the works by Kahlo. But what are the reasons for the birth of this legend?

The birth of an icon

The “Fridamania”, as it was called in the United States, was born in the 1990s, when the passion for Frida’s iconic image burst out more than that for her art; an image that the painter herself had built in her many self-portraits. The much imitated “Frida look” – typical Mexican ethnic dresses, braided jet-black hair decorated with flowers, red cheeks, dark and thick eyebrows united in the middle, and the flaunted hair in the upper lip – resulted to be winning because it reflected the inner being of the artist, who was able to show herself for what she really was.

“Self Portrait with Bonito”, 1941, private collection, USA

Lesbian love as act of protest

The revival of Frida’s character, however, began in the 1970s, when, at the time of the struggles for human rights, people were looking for reference figures who could embody the right to affirm their identity. Frida responded to this need because she was an intrepid, free and proudly different woman, who opposed against the social conventions of her era, embodied by the Mexican bourgeoise to which she belonged. She had many lovers, both men and women, freely living her sexuality, without feeling guilty for her choices, thus enjoying a privilege that was only reserved to men. Frida, who loved to dress up in men’s clothes, never hid the fact that she was bisexual, and instead turned it into an instrument of emancipation from codified gender roles. This is the reason why she was chosen as a feminist icon and, more in general, icon of the LGBT community.

When the general public discovered Frida

The spreading of the “Fridamania” is linked to the publication of the Mexican artist’s biography in 1983, written by Hayden Herrera. At the time, Kahlo was not yet known among the general public, and for this reason the book was published in limited edition copies. But shortly after, the intense story of passion and suffering of Frida Kahlo fascinated the world, becoming a best seller that was translated in twenty-five languages, and adapted into the movie “Frida”, starring Salma Hayek. The whole world loved Fridita and her resilience, identifying with the suffering of a woman who knew how to transform the adversities of her life – from the almost fatal accident to the troubled love with Diego Rivera, up to never accomplished the desire to become a mother – into pure creativity.

“Frida Kahlo Murales, San Francisco, CA

The “Frida Kahlo” brand

A trademark of universal merchandising, the image of Frida Kahlo was registered in 2007 by the Florida-based Frida Kahlo Corporation, and has been used for a multitude of gadgets and objects, from credit cards to sanitary pads, far from the artist’s spirit and oeuvre. A little odd is the fact that a stamp with Kahlo’s face, who was an activist of the Mexican Communist Party, was issued in the United States, since always obsessed by the “Red Scare”. Moreover, equally striking is the fact that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party so certainly far from Kahlo’s ideals, wore a bracelet decorated with the Mexican painter’s face during an official occasion. It is impossible not to wonder if the massive spreading of her image, which has become an autonomous phenomenon, would have suited the artist.

“Kahlo in 1932, photographed by his father, Guillermo Kahlo

The exhibition at the MUDEC in Milan

On the other hand, the myth Frida Kahlo and the success of her brand helped creating a real interest for the art of the Mexican painter, demonstrated by the large number of exhibitions and events celebrating the artist set up around the world. The last one is an important retrospective organized in Milan and entitled “Frida. Beyond the myth”; an exhibition that the MUDEC will dedicate to the artist from February 1 to June 3, 2018.


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