Frida Kahlo was a painter and a political activist. Even though she had no formal art training, she is remembered as one of Mexico’s greatest artists.
Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon on July 6, 1907, in Mexico City, Mexico. She suffered from polio as a young child, which left her with a permanent limp in her right leg. Kahlo’s father was a well-known photographer, and he encouraged his daughter to play sports as a way to heal her body, which was something that girls did not do at the time. This probably helped her go on to be a very powerful woman as an adult!
Like her father, Kahlo was very talented and earned a place at the prestigious National Preparatory School for in 1922. Again, she was one of only a few girls to attend. Kahlo dreamed of being a doctor, but that dream ended when she was 18. She was hit by a bus, and the accident left her in a body cast for several months. It was then that she took up painting. At 19, she painted her first self-portrait, a picture of herself in a velvet dress.
In 1929, Kahlo married another famous Mexican painter, Diego Rivera. He encouraged her to keep painting. She was a very productive artist who created watercolors, drawings and portraits of people, including Diego. But she is most famous for her self-portraits, of which there were at least 55 paintings!
Kahlo was well known for her brightly colored traditional Mexican clothing and jewelry. Like her style of dress, her art also embraced the indigenous folk cultures of Mexico. She used vibrant colors and showed a lot of pain and intense emotions in her paintings. Her artwork is sometimes called surrealist because she painted people and familiar objects in a way that made them look dreamlike or strange.
Have you ever painted a portrait of yourself? Kahlo painted many! In her self-portraits, Kahlo captured her own unique sense of style and the way she felt at the time. Try painting a self-portrait of yourself the way that Kahlo did.
What You Need: paper or large construction paper, colored tempera paints, paintbrush, water, paper plate and a mirror
Directions: Get yourself ready for your self-portrait. Think about how you want to look in your self-portrait. Are you feeling happy? Sad? What clothing do you want to wear? Do you have any favorite jewelry or a hat that you want to include?
Set up an easel or painting area for yourself in front of a mirror, or have a friend or adult take a digital picture of you and print it out so that you can use it as a model. Use the colored paints to paint a picture of yourself!
As you work, think about Kahlo. Is it easier or harder for you to paint yourself than to paint other subjects? Why? When your painting dries, share it with your friends and family.
Written by Tamar Burris, a former elementary school teacher who now works as a freelance writer and curriculum developer for PBS, the Discovery Channel and other education-related companies. Sources: “Beyond the Myth, Art Endures,” The New York Times, July 7, 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/07/07/arts/design /07frid.html?pagewanted=all; Frida Kahlo on Biography.com, www.biography.com/people/frida-kahlo-9359496, Frida Kahlo, www.fridakahlo.com.