CHESHIRE – The Cheshire Public Library presented the program ‘Frida Kahlo: Love, Pain and Painting’, earlier this month to around 40 attendees at an online event.

Jane Oneail, founder of Culturally Curious, a public art appreciation and education programming company, was the guest speaker.

Frida Kahlo might be one of the most enigmatic artists in the modern art world, according to Oneail, but “she was not a bisexual communist as some might think”.

Other highlights from the Oneail conference on March 7:

Kahlo was born in Mexico in 1907. Her mother was of Indo-Spanish descent and fanatically religious. Kahlo had a strong bond with her father, a German-Jewish photographer who fought against Hitler and who struggled with epilepsy.

Kahlo contracted polio at the age of 6, causing a deformity in her left leg, a condition that led to bullying at school and likely took a toll on her emotional and artistic development. A streetcar accident at 18 left Kahlo with a broken spine, collarbone, dislocated ribs and crushed bones in her foot. She was also partially impaled by an iron handrail, which pierced her uterus.

She survived but suffered from debilitating pain for most of her life. She also had to wear hard plaster corsets because of her spinal injuries. His native Tehuana dresses and embellished tunics helped camouflage medical devices and physical deformities.

Kahlo got married at 22. As madly in love as she was with her husband, Diego Rivera, the world-renowned muralist, Kahlo suffered from his infidelities and absences.

Of the two hundred paintings she made during her lifetime, about a quarter are self-portraits.

“They’re incredibly indicative of his personality, of his pain, of his grief, of his strength,” Oneail said. “I think you feel an intimacy with Friday Kahlo when you look at his work. It feels like going on a trip with her.

In one of her earliest paintings, a major piece from 1936, Kahlo painted a family tree containing her parents and both sets of grandparents. It was done at a time when Hitler banned interracial marriage, Oneail said.

“Here she celebrates the fact that she is the product of an interracial marriage and uses the family tree to prove it,” Oneail said.

Surrealist leader André Breton called Kahlo’s work “a ribbon wrapped around a bomb,” Oneail said.

Kahlo was proud of her Mexican heritage and was interested in social justice. Oneail said Kahlo’s monobrow and mustache went against society’s expectations.

“Anything that was expected of a young woman, she would push it away,” Oneail said. “She wanted to determine for herself throughout her life what was beautiful, and in the process she became a style icon.”

Prior to Kahlo’s death at age 47 in 1952, her physical pain was so great that she only painted while lying in bed. His latest work, “Viva la Vida” which means “live life”, suggests that the pieces of fruit carved on the canvas represent his body.

Nonetheless, despite all the pain in her life, Kahlo, in her final days, “stands for the great things of human existence,” Oneail said. Kahlo wrote in her diary, “I hope the outing is joyous and I hope never to return.”

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