Author: María Hesse (translated from Spanish by Achy Obejas)
Publish Date: September 2018
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1477317280
by Martina Follador
Frida Kahlo was born in Coyocán, Mexico, the 6th of July 1907. We know Frida as an artist and lots of us already know some of her biography, but the most interesting part of her is her interiority. As she has always said, she draws herself because she’s the thing she knows the most, and what comes out is a beautiful world, made of feelings, emotions and hidden thoughts. She paints her daily reality. Her past was overwhelmed by sufferance and painting was the only thing she could do when obliged to stay in bed.
She was born with spina bifida, a birth condition where the spine doesn’t close properly. That means that the nerves aren’t correctly protected by the vertebrae, which didn’t complete their formation. At the time of Frida’s birth, the causes of spina bifida weren’t known, but now we are aware that there may be a genetic component or a lack of folate (Vitamin B9) or folic acid during the pregnancy. This disease caused Frida scoliosis and made her right leg shorter and more fragile. Frida’s parents were concerned that Spina bifida might be viewed as making her unworthy of getting married or to live a relatively happy life. Consequently, she stayed homebound for some years with her sister, who was also born with spina bifida. When people asked about Frida her parents told them that she had poliomyelitis. At that time, in fact, poliomyelitis’ causes weren’t yet known. Sometime later, Frida could go to school, but due to her illness, her parents had “cut” her and her sister from three years of schooling. Her year of birth was then changed to 1910 ever since, and Frida has always been happy about that because that was the year of the Mexican revolution. And she has always said that she was the revolution.
In 1925, Frida started to paint after her first debilitating injury—fracturing her back and pelvis—when riding a bus that was in an accident. Her parents made her bed like a refuge with a mirror and some colours. She learned that pain would always be a part of her life. Art was therapeutic to her, since she could externalize her most hidden feelings through colours. At the present time, we would say that Frida has approached art therapy. Art therapy is a scientifically studied discipline, as it allows the patient to manifest what is not possible to communicate with words. It has many benefits regarding mental health and recovering and lots of hospitals and cliniques currently employ it. We could say that the brush and the colours were Frida’s travel companions in her pain journey as a personal diary of the suffering experiences she had to go through her entire life, both physical and emotional. In particular, Frida’s marriage with Diego Rivera had always been full of ups and downs, due to the repeated betrayals of him and the miscarriages Frida went through because of her past injuries.
Frida was extraordinary: she had her own way to see things and she communicated her ideas through art. She painted her orthopedic brace with the revolution symbols and she came in her bed to her first individual gallery in Mexico, since she couldn’t walk.
There is a lot that Frida Kahlo: An Illustrated Life by María Hesse can offer. The illustrations recall Frida’s original pieces and they perfectly show her thoughts and life, as in a movie. Even the most brutal events are illustrated with both tact and harsh veracity at the same time. When you read, you have the impression that Frida is talking to you, thanks to the simple but entertaining text and the different fonts employed, in order to confer a more personal and autobiographical touch to this amazing book. I see it as a masterpiece, both for the contents and the graphic parts. If you want to meet the real Frida, you just have to read this marvelous book.
Martina Follador is an Italian author and illustrator for children. She was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was four, and she has drawn a comic book about celiac disease for the Italian Association of Celiac disease, available in February 2023 for hospitals, hotel schools and members of the association. Her love for children and medical themes led her to develop a passion for art therapy and pedagogy.