When I was in New York, I spent some time at the Museum of Modern Art, which is an incredible place. I knew that Starry Night was there, but beyond that I didn’t really know what was in their collection–I just knew it was good and I wanted to go see it. So, I walked into a gallery on the 5th floor and I stopped dead in my tracks in front of this painting.
I have loved Friday Kahlo’s art for a long time. She’s like the Betty Friedan of the art world. What do I mean by that? Well, what was radical about Betty was that she spoke the truth of her experience, instead of putting on the happy face that women often feel compelled to show. It’s a radical thing, to speak your truth. And I can’t think of an artist who spoke her truth more than Frida. Which makes her one of us, and worth getting to know.
Frida grew up in Mexico, and when she was a teenager, she was in a horrific accident. She was riding in a bus that slammed into a trolley, and a pole punctured her lower abdomen, and she broke more bones than I can count, including her spine. And she spent the rest of her life enduring surgeries and struggling through pain and surviving with her disability. Surviving, until she couldn’t anymore, and then leaving her art behind her.
And oh, her art! It’s so incredibly raw and beautiful and powerful. She didn’t shy away from her pain, the pain that was always with her, both physical and emotional–she painted it instead. The art world tries to call her art surrealist, but she didn’t like that label and neither do I, because, in her words, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” This is what feminist art does at its best: it expresses the artist’s reality.
Frida painted things that one simply did not discuss in her day, like her miscarriage, and the suicide of a friend. Her works ripped out her soul from her chest, and showed it to us, and said, “Here I am, beautiful, ugly, and perfect.” I can’t even begin to express how much power is in that, in letting the world see you, YOU, not the make-up version of you, not the job-interview-suit version of you, but YOU. Because you’re fucking gorgeous. We all are.
Frida knew that, and she lived it, and that’s what makes her a feminist warrior.