She was extremely proud of her Mexican heritage
Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico to a German father and a Spanish indigenous mother.
Although she was considered a “mestiza” — a person of mixed European and indigenous ancestry — she closely identified with her indigenous heritage and loved the Mexican people.
When Kahlo was only three years old, the Mexican Revolution erupted. She grew up in the political chaos that led to end of a nearly 30-year dictatorship and establishment of a constitutional republic.
That turbulent time helped shape Kahlo’s world view. By the age of 16, she had joined a local chapter of the socialist party. In her 20’s, she became a member of the Mexican Communist Party.
For years, Kahlo even claimed she was born in 1910 so that she would be perceived as a daughter of the revolution, according to Frida Kahlo Foundation.
She remained a vocal leftist and supporter of the Mexican people throughout her life.
She started painting after a life-threatening accident
Kahlo was plagued by a series of debilitating health issues, but she never let them stop her from living life to the fullest.
In her teens, she was severely injured when a bus collided with a trolley, causing a metal handrail to break off and pierce her pelvis, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Her spine, legs and feet were also fractured in the accident.
A visitor looks at the painting “The Broken Column” by Frida Kahlo at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin. Credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
As a result of the crash, Kahlo was beset with chronic pain and wore a plaster corset throughout her life.
She would go on to paint “The Broken Column,” which depicted her plaster corset.
She married a famous Mexican painter
Their marriages — they married twice — were rocked by fiery temperaments and extramarital affairs, according to the Frida Kahlo Foundation.
Frida Kahlo pets a monkey clinging to the jacket of her husband, Diego Rivera. Credit: Wallace Marly/Archive Photos/Getty Images
The ups and downs of their relationship became the subject of multiple works by Kahlo.
In “Self Portrait with Cropped Hair,” which she painted months after their divorce, Kahlo depicts herself seated solemnly in a man’s suit, holding long locks of her recently chopped off hair. The oversized suit is similar to the ones Rivera wore, and he was known to admire her long hair, which Kahlo painted scattered across the floor.
Frida Kahlo’s 1942 “Self Portrait with Cropped Hair.” Credit: David Goldman/AP
Rivera, a dedicated Marxist and supporter of the Mexican Revolution, is beloved for his murals, which often attacked the ruling class and told stories of working class people.
She rejected the label of surrealist
Kahlo is renowned for her self portraits, but that’s not all she painted.
Kahlo also painted strange and dark scenes. “What the Water Gave Me” depicts figures and landscapes floating in a bathtub.
She often drew inspiration from painful personal experiences, including her stormy marriage, miscarriages and medical procedures. Many of her self-portraits depicted physical and psychological wounds, according to Frida Kahlo Foundation.
Her paintings also incorporated themes of female empowerment and strength of will.
Contemporaries, including famed surrealist André Breton, described Kahlo’s work as surrealism. But it was a label she flatly rejected.
She used fashion to make a political statement
Frida Kahlo poses for a portrait, circa 1940. Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Her anti-colonial style included modern dresses adorned with Mayan-influenced patterns, rebozo scarves and traditional necklaces, among other accessories.
In time, Kahlo became just as famous for her unique look as she was for her impressive body of work.