The time Frida and Diego Rivera were reunited, Diego had already been divorced twice with three children and was involved in various love affairs (Antelo 2013). Diego was considered by many as an unattractive man. He was around six feet and weighed about 300 pounds. Despite his ugliness, Diego had the ability to draw large quantities of women to him (Antelo 2013). Although Frida knew Diego to be a womanizer, she nonetheless approached him while he was working on a mural and asked what his honest opinion of her work was. Diego was deeply moved by Frida’s self-portraits and her presence. Diego later went to Coyocan to see the rest of Frida’s portraits. They fell in love almost immediately, and despite the disapproval from Frida’s parents, married on August 21st, 1929. Frida’s father told Diego that his daughter was sick and will be sick all her life. He told Diego that she was exceptionally intelligent but not attractive and for him to ponder whether he truly wants to marry his daughter. Frida’s mother commonly referred to Diego and Frida as the union of an elephant and a dove (Earwood 2017).
Even though Frida and Diego were married, this did not cause a caseation to his infidelity. In fact, a doctor even went so far as to tell Diego that he is incapable of monogamy, to which Diego was all too happy to hear. After not even a year of marriage, Diego had an affair. Frida was devastated, hurt, and above all angry. In addition to the troubles she was facing in her marriage, she became pregnant that same year but with her medical history she had a abortion (Antelo 2013). Deeply saddened by this event Frida became increasingly worried she would not be able to have a child with Diego. During this time, Frida did not want to be an artist and merely used art as a way to escape the turmoil she was constantly exposed to. Influenced by artwork of Jesus Christ, she was able to relate to the blood and sadness depicted to her own life that consisted of surgeries, pain, suffering, and sadness (Antelo, 2013).
In 1931, Diego was invited to paint a mural in the United States and Frida tagged along. Their first stop was San Francisco, California then New York. Frida enjoyed New York but missed Mexico. Frida started getting used to the US and become acquainted with a variety of people such as Charly Chaplin and Henry Ford (Earwood, 2017) . Frida was always making inappropriate jokes and pretended she did not know what she said in English were curse words (Bautista, 2012). She was always making a scene and making those around her laugh it seemed, as if to mask the internal struggles and pains she was no stranger too. While in the Detroit, Michigan, Frida once again became pregnant and during the summer she started experiencing hemorrhaging and was rushed to the hospital (Earwood, 2017). Overwhelmed with grief Frida remained in the hospital for 13 days. During those days she asked for a pencil and paper and began to draw. She soon realized she was able to express her anguish through her drawings. Detroit was major turning point for Frida; she consciously made the decision to be an artist. Through her artwork, Frida was able to depict many genres while showcasing her most intimate struggles was ultimately what makes Frida’s work so unique. Frida’s artwork was her only way to tell her story. Frida was able to give her pain meaning through art and creativity. Despite her disabilities, she was able to manifest every sorrow and every joy she experienced. Also, Frida was able to give voice to those who could not freely express the on goings of their lives or their personal struggles. Frida was able to find beauty and meaning in the brokenness of herself.
To Diego’s dislike, after four years in the United States, both he and Frida went back to Mexico (Earwood, 2017). Diego quickly found himself involved with another woman. To Frida’s dismay, his mistress was her own sister Cristina. Frida has constantly mentioned that she has never in her life felt more betrayed and hurt (Earwood, 2017). Frida stopped wearing her traditional Mexican skirts and cut her hair short. She moved away from Diego and expressed that fidelity was a means to exploit people. No longer would Frida allow herself to be restricted and confined. She began to paint and take lovers both men and women alike. Her motto became make love, take a bath, make love again (Antelo,2013). Frida was discrete about her affairs because Diego was extremely jealous. Nikolas Muray a famous photographer, was one of Frida’s serious love affairs (Antelo, 2013). Frida wrote Nikolas a letter where she stated that only Diego would be as close to her heart as he is (Earwood, 2017). No one could ever replace Diego in Frida’s heart. Her love for him was unsurmountable. In her diary, Frida describes Diego as a man who could never be someone’s husband but as a life partner. After a year apart Frida decided to move back in with Diego in the house, he had built for them. This house was particularly interesting as they both lived in separate houses, Frida’s was smaller but both houses were connected by a bridge.
One of Frida’s lovers mentioned how much Frida loved to dance (Earwood. 2017). Anything she was not able to do she loved. She let her hair grow and once again wore her traditional Mexican dresses. What was so radical about Frida was that people often did not expect a person with the disabilities she had to be so lively and radiant. Frida had an appetite for life that seemed insatiable and was not marked by how many women and men she slept with, but by her refusal to give up on herself.
Around the mid 1930s, Diego went to ask the president for amnesty for Leon Trotsky and his wife (Bautista, 2012). She let the Trotsky’s live in the blue house, eventually Trotsky and Frida had a brief affair. In 1938, Frida staged her 1st solo exhibition in New York at the Lexy Gallery (Bautista, 2012). During this time, Frida began to make an even bigger name for herself. She was treated as Frida Kahlo, a separate being not just the wife of Diego Rivera. She was well liked and deeply respected by other artists. Also, during this time Andre Breton a surrealist poet and his colleagues began exploring Sigmund Freud’s theories of the subconscious (Earwood, 2017). Andre decided to visit Trotsky in Mexico, where reality itself was surreal. There he came across Frida’s surrealism who is deeply influenced by her immense knowledge of Mexican culture. Frida did not see herself as a surrealist she painted what was reality for her. Invited by Andre to attend a Paris exhibit, Frida was disappointed to find that a show had not been prepared and that her artwork remained in customs (Earwood, 2017). She grew sick and ended up in the hospital for a chronic back, foot, and an infection in her kidneys. A large quantity of women offered to care for Frida, one of which was Andre’s wife Jaqueline Lamba. They developed a love affair (Antelo,2013). Eventually, when her paintings were released from customs and had a successful exhibit, she was put on the cover of Time magazine (Bautista, 2012). At this exhibition Pablo Picasso gave Frida a pair of earrings shaped like tiny hands which Frida painted in one of her self-portraits (Earwood, 2017).
In April 1939, Frida returned to Mexico to Diego who had enjoyed his time without her presence. Their relationship was in turmoil until she moved back to the blue house. Distraught and feeling alone, Frida often wrote in a diary how she felt. Being who she was, Frida experienced profound loneliness and often found herself stating that only she felt the pain she felt and that no one else experienced the constant troubles that have taken place in her life. She once more cut her hair off and developed alcoholism (Earwood, 2017). She drank a large bottle of brandy a day and began one of her most recognized paintings, called the Two Fridas (Earwood, 2017). In the painting, one Frida was dressed in traditional Mexican clothes and the other was not. Frida said one of the Frida’s was the one Diego loved and the other was not (Antelo, 2013).
When Diego left for San Francisco with his young attractive assistant, Frida’s health plummeted. For three months, Frida was confined to her bed yet again. When the news of Frida’s health reached Diego, he was deeply saddened and worried (Bautista, 2012). Frida went to San Francisco to see a specialist for her spine and to consider Diego’s offer to remarry. While in the hospital, reconciling with Diego helped her regain her health increasingly fast, but she did not tell Diego whether she agreed to marry him again. Frida had an affair with Heinz Berggruen, an art dealer who worked for Diego (Earwood, 2017). Heinz fell in love with Frida immediately, and described her as beautiful inside and out. They were together for only a short while and Heinz felt Frida always wanted to get back to Diego. Frida married Diego once more on his 51st birthday (Antelo, 2013).
In 1943, Frida was asked to join the education Ministry’s School of Painting and Sculpture known as “La Esmeralda” (Earwood, 2017). For a brief period of a few months, Frida taught until her health deterioriated. Four extremely devoted students would take a bus to Coyocan to continue getting taught by her. Her students were nicknamed “ Los Fridos” and they were motivated to think outside the box. When visiting her house, they found that they were inspired by her spider monkeys, and parrots she let roam wild and free (Bautista, 2012). She also had a unique array of plants in every part of her house. Her students recall that the very house she lived in awoke an inspiration in them. By 1944, Frida’s health steadily declined and continued to do so until her death on 1954 (Earwood, 2017). The following year she became as depressed as ever, and frequently used morphine to deal with her constant pain. In addition to her alcoholism she developed an addiction to painkillers. Her spine was extremely weak and needed assistance to walk or stand. She got gangrene on her foot, the same foot that contracted polio and had been in 11 places.
Frida’s journal was one of the major items in her life she used to cope with her ever present problematic issues. Frida became increasingly clingy and needy. She despised being on her own maybe because she experienced loneliness her whole life. In 1953, a friend created her first exhibition in Mexico; Frida was so sick that she arrived by ambulance to her own show (Earwood, 2017). Once she was back in the blue house she was confined to a wheelchair, the gangrene caused her to get her leg amputated below the knee. Her last painting was a painting of watermelons and at the bottom read the words, “Viva la Vida” long live life (Earwood, 2017). At the age of 47 Frida died in her bed. Her closest friends braided her hair the way she liked and put on all her rings and jewelry (CITE).
Despite Frida’s childhood and adolescene consisting of chronic pain and loneliness, she went on to paint over 200 paintings of which 55 were self portraits, earning her the title of one of Mexico’s greatest artists (cite). In addition to being known as a chronic smoker and alcoholic, Frida also used drugs such as morphine to numb the constant pain she was in. She became addicted to pain killers and it was speculated that her death might have been a suicide and not a pulmonary embolism (cite). It is important to consider that not only was chronic pain a constant in Frida’s life but also mental illness such as borderline personality disorder or BPD.
Borderline personality disorder as mentioned in the DSM-5, is defined as a pattern of instability in personal relationships, self-image, and emotion, as well as impulsivity starting in early adulthood (cite). Some of the criteria include fear of abandonment, unstable relationships that might exhibit extremes which is known as splitting, unstable self-image, impulsive behavior, suicidal behavior, emotional instability, emptiness, intense anger, and paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms. Dissociative symptoms include: depersonalization, derealization, amnesia, identity confusion, and identity alteration (Cite). In order to be diagnosed, five or more of the criteria must be met. Frida showed signs of seven of the nine criteria for BPD; fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, unstable self-image, impulsive behavior, emotional instability, emptiness, and severe dissociative symptoms.
While the exact cause of BPD is unknown, a combination of factors such as genetics, brain development, and environmental factors like being neglected by one or both parents, chronic fear or distress as a child, and being a victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse can be major contributors to BPD development(cite). As a child, Frida did not have a good relationship with her devout catholic mother and often referred to her as “mi jefe” or my boss. In addition to a turbulent relationship with her mom, Frida experienced some trauma as a child when caught in the middle of the Mexican Revolution. As a child, she often recalls the ability to still hear bullets flying past her as she played outside. When Frida was diagnosed with polio that left her leg withered, she was the subject of ridicule by her classmates. This distress paired with the on goings of war must have had a severe effect on Frida’s psychological state.
Throughout her life, Frida was known to change her looks radically. One day she would have flowers in her hair, long dangly earrings, rings on every finger and multiple bracelets on both hands. She would dawn long traditional Mexican skirts that went all the way to the bottom of her feet. She refused to shave her arm pits, mustache, and unibrow. Frida’s closest friends mentioned she was always the center of attention at any party. While in New York, children would taunt her asking where the circus was, which did not seem to bother Frida (cite). Frida enjoyed making big scenes and making inappropriate jokes. Frida also had times where she would cut all her hair off similar to a male. She would put on men’s clothes and slick her hair back. She would not wear any jewelry or put roses in her hair. Frida would change to and from these two looks her whole life. When discovering the philandering of her husband Diego, she would wear men’s clothes and cut her hair but when she was content with him, she would wear skirts and jewelry. These extreme changes in identity coincide with splitting or, unstable self-image. The term “duality” was used to describe not only Frida’s chaotic personality but her artwork as well. Evidence of this identity alternation also manifests itself in some of her most famous paintings; “Las Dos Fridas”(the two Fridas) and Tree of Hope, Keep Firm.
When Frida grew tired of Diego’s infidelity, she found herself trying to feel cohesive and complete. Angered at Diego’s affair with her sister, Frida engaged in numerous affairs herself. Frida tried relentlessly to gain the love she never got from her mother in Diego. Diego was older by 20 years which could have helped Frida feel secure and protected. Additionally, Diego was also a mentor to her, opening doors for her artistic talent and style. Despite being around people who loved and cared for her, Frida had a feeling of impending doom that made her fear abandonment. This too, is prevalent in all her paintings. In many of the letters Frida wrote to her friends, lovers, and Diego, she indicated a constant need of approval and love. Regardless of all the lovers Frida had, no one seemed to fill the emptiness she often succumbed to like Diego. When she could not have Diego, she drank excessively and used painkillers. One thing remained clear throughout Frida’s life, she could not be without Diego and Diego could not be without her.