Plastered all over tote bags, mugs, magnets, and posters, you can find Frida Kahlo’s iconic self-portraits. Her most famous portraits artistically portray her thick unibrow, and gorgeous dark hair, filled with delicate flowers. Frida has become popular for her beautiful physique. Although, the white capitalists she so strongly opposed, have commodified and stripped her image.
While Americans have adored Frida’s paintings, they have forgotten her life as a communist, disabled womxn, and proud Mexican.
Frida’s artwork is likened to a diary filled with the story of her life. She painted for leisure, with her muse being both her loved ones and her political beliefs. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “life imitates art,” I’d argue that for Frida, “art imitates life.”
Frida and “Mexicanidad”
In 1907, just a few years before the start of the Mexican Revolution, Frida was born. Correspondingly, the revolution shaped her radical beliefs during her formative years.
By the year 1922, Frida officially joined the Mexican Communist Party and embraced the idea of “Mexicanidad.” Embracing Mexicanidad for Frida meant reviving indigenous culture and rejecting assimilation to colonialism. Indeed, she even depicted Aztec symbols in her artwork to respect the pre-colonial culture of her land.
However, Frida culturally appropriated the fashion from the Zapotec womxn. Her frequent cultural appropriation is not to be ignored. She typically wore the traditional “Tehuana dress” and jewelry from the matriarchal society of the Zapotec womxn and muxes (the third gender identity). That is why paying homage to Frida shall never include further appropriation of Zapotec culture. Instead, we shall pay homage by finding our own roots and partake in femininity and anticolonialism in other ways. I propose partaking in activism for underrepresented communities and educating yourself about indigenous communities, like the Zapotec people.
Frida and communism
Frida’s advocacy for communism did not fall short. She helped protest against US imperialism in Guatemala. And in her diary, she wrote of her distaste with the oppression from the bourgeoisie, advocating for a classless society.
The capitalists who configured Frida’s image have mostly ignored her politically charged artwork. Arguably, her political work was among her best work.
Being a disabled womxn herself, Frida paid ode to Marx in her piece, Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick. In this work, Frida, dressed in her back supporting corset, depicts Marx’s helping hand in her final days. Marx’s ideology gave Frida hope of a liberated world, unshackled from the oppressive class.
In a similar fashion, her piece, My Dress Hangs There, illustrates the destructive nature of a capitalist society. Significantly, in the center of chaos lies the Tehuana dress ― overwhelmed by the colonialist structures. Skyscrapers, the church, and the pollution, all surround the dress.
Without a doubt, Frida rejected the status quo’s expectations. Frida’s self-portraits do indeed feature her admiration for non-eurocentric beauty and feminist ideals. However, often overlooked is her fight for communism and her love for pre-colonial culture.