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Queer artist Frida Kahlo is one of the most iconic Mexicans ever. Her brilliant paintings hangs in museums all over the world. And if you’ve seen the 2002 film Frida, you already know about her complicated relationship with her husband, painter Diego Rivera. You also probably know about the physical limitations she suffered due to having polio as a child and a streetcar accident that took place when she was 18. But here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Mexico’s celebrated painter.
1. Frida Kahlo was a fashion icon.
Kahlo was known for her colorful gowns celebrating Mexican folklore and traditional designs. But her fashion sense also extended to the corsets, crutches and prosthetic legs she needed due to her disability. Not content to let function win out over fashion, she decorated these items and truly made them her own.
2. Her accident deeply informed her work.
Frida Kahlo was only 18 years old when she was involved in a terrible streetcar accident. Not only did the accident immobilize her for nine months, it also rendered her unable to have a child. Not being able to become a mother devastated her, and Kahlo’s obsession and pain is clearly reflected in her pieces.
3. Frida Kahlo’s home was very much a part of her art.
An artist’s home and studio can provide some of the greatest insight into the artist mindset, and Kahlo’s design choices are no exception. Her house was not only packed with tchotchkes and books; she also had a mirror over her bed so she could look at herself. Her bed was also one of her workspaces; she had a special system that allowed her to paint while lying in bed.
Unsurprisingly, Kahlo didn’t just focus on the interior. Her home — where she was born and died — was known as the Blue House, as it’s a beautiful shade of bright blue. Now it’s one of the most-visited museums in Mexico City — even though it’s tiny, meaning there’s a long wait. (Check out these other wonderful museums of Latin America.)
4. Her friends were all A-listers.
Every celebrity needs an entourage, and Frida Kahlo’s was impressive. She received gifts from Japanese sculpture artist Isamu Noguchi and the wealthy American politician Nelson Rockefeller. Lest you think she was a capitalist like Rockefeller, though, she and Rivera hosted Leon Trotsky in 1937, protecting him from Stalin.
5. Frida Kahlo’s father was also an artist.
Guillermo Kahlo, her father, was a talented German-Mexican photographer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t nearly as successful as his daughter would be — partly due to her expensive medical bills. Still, art was in her veins from the very beginning.
6. She was a devoted wife.
While both Rivera and Kahlo were known for their many affairs, eventually divorcing in 1940 — only to remarry a year later — both artists deeply loved each other. Kahlo not only understood Rivera’s strong personality, she embraced him for it. In letters, she compares herself to riverbanks and he to the river’s flow, letting him run free. Years after her death, historians discovered Kahlo’s drafts of a biography of Rivera, which she intended to be published as a tribute.
7. Frida Kahlo is on the 500 peso bill.
In America, we’re still waiting for Harriet Tubman to kick genocidal racist Andrew Jackson off the front of the twenty. But Mexico’s beating the United States on this front, as Kahlo’s on the 500 peso note. (Rivera is on the other side, so the couple will be together forever, or at least until the next redesign.) The bill features not only one of her self-portraits, but her 1949 painting Love’s Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl.