This week’s art therapy blog is a tribute to Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. She would have been 103 this week. Kahlo’s full name was Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kaylo y Calderó, and she was born in Coyoacán, Mexico. Many people remember Frida Kahlo as a passionate folk artist who excelled in conveying pain and intensity in her work. She was made famous through her series of self-portraits she created as she recovered from a serious accident that rendered her disabled for a time and required numerous surgeries.
As she was immobilized during that time, she took up painting to deal with her loneliness, her pain, her isolation, her slow recovery and most significantly the losses incurred due to her accident (a fiancé, multiple miscarriages, her initial interest in studying medicine). While most of her portraits were of herself and her interpretation of her life and the changes it made in her relationships, the portraits also portray Mexican culture and her reverence for her cultural identity. It was only after her death that her work was recognized and celebrated in Mexico as emblematic of national and indigenous tradition as well as by feminists for her depiction of the female experience and form.
Frida’s turning to art to facilitate the expression of her feelings, her experiences and to aide in her healing is embolic of the use of art-as-therapy. As defined by the American Art Therapy Association, “Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making by people, within a professional relationship, who experience illness, trauma, or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.” While Frida did not enter into a therapeutic relationship with a professional art therapist, as that may not have been available for her in Mexico at that time, she certainly used art making as a tool for self-expression, sublimating her trauma, and healing. Her foray into art making through her healing process started her on a career as an artist, as an activist, and a feminist.
Kahlo died at age 47 years old on July 13, 1954. Her work and biography can be found in museums all over the world, including the Frida Kahlo museum in her home town of Coyoacán, Mexico, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, New York, to name a few.