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1983 biography on Frida Kahlo a delight to read, much like the 2002 film

By Jonathan Farrell
Posted Sep 9, 2012 in
This reporter stumbled across a biography of artist Frida Kahlo this past summer at a fund raiser book sale for the public library. At first I was hesitant because it was big and bulky for a paperback and it was published in 1983, almost 30 years ago. Yet, for a bargain price of only $1.00 what did I have to lose?
Turns out author and scholar Hayden Herrera's biography, "Frida - A Biography of Frida Kahlo was a delight for me to read. Comprehensive, Herrera's work covers a lot of ground. And, while I initially thought it would be too heavy and a bit dull, it felt like her work must have been the text used for the PBS documentary "The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo."
That documentary and the 2002 film, starring Salma Hayek, were wonderful and the Herrera's work brought me right back to those experiences, eager for more.
So, it was no surprise when I learned that Hererra was part of the writing team for the film.
What is it about Kahlo that captivates people? Is it her honesty? Is it her struggles against very difficult circumstances? Or is it her art and talent in and of itself?
Initially when I first learned of Kahlo way back in the early 1990's, I was a bit taken aback by the shocking surrealism to her paintings. Yet, here it is more than a decade or more later and she is even more popular now than ever.
Some of the excerpts from Kahlo's letters in Herrera's biography talk of many set backs due to her physical disabilities, illnesses and heartaches that would have overwhelmed other people. Yet some how she managed not only to survive but to get out into the world and live.
What an impact she made. Both the book and the PBS documentary make note of how much people were affected by Kahlo. An unusual beauty with an undeniable defiance and intelligence that was unlike anyone else.
What fascinates me most about Frida, despite her self-obsessions and what seems like narcissism, is her ability to attract people to her. She had many lovers in her lifetime and she did not hideaway from life, she was always visible, alluring and alive.
She stood up to heavy conventional notions of the day, with regards to bigotry, racism, sexism and disability, long before any social movements were in fashion. That to me shows she had courage and authenticity.
I also could discern some of her struggle as an artist. The dealings with people who were very small in perceptions of life and rather shallow. Yet, she persevered, even when she and her husband muralist Diego Rivera were at odds with one another.
While there is lots of fascination with movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and so on. The fascination with an artist like Kahlo is, I think more enduring, because it is about a life really lived and not one manufactured by a movie. It seems to me Kahlo's life is what movies and books are really made of; a life lived to its fullest against tremendous odds.