Painter, activist, feminist and muse. That and more is Frida Kahlo, one of the most important icons of Mexican identity in the world. She was born in Mexico City in 1907. And although she was of German descent, she dedicated her life to showing her love for Mexico, through her art, her folkloric dress and her ornate hairstyles.
La Casa Roja was the chosen place for us to meet with Mara Romeo and Mara de Anda. The first one being the great-grandniece of Frida, and the second one being her daughter. Entering the house we could immediately feel that magical vibe that comes with places filled with stories and memories. A large table in the middle of a room crowded by pieces of history, was the spot they chose to speak to us. On the white wall in the background you can see a painting with fourteen small framed photos: it is the family tree of the Kahlo family. We were lucky enough to learn more about her life through the words of her family in an exclusive interview for This is Latin America.
To learn more about her life, we talked with two of her relatives. "She was a very proud woman of her Mexico, a very empowered woman, a woman ahead of her epoch," says Mara Romeo, niece of the Mexican artist that we can find in shirts, paintings, mugs and even in beers.
“She was a very advanced woman, she broke rules. I think that all women now and the whole world can identify with her, because she always said: ‘Yes, we can’. All the crafts, everything that her people did, she praised it. And I think that is very important, to be proud of your traditions, of your origins, of your roots, well, that is what we need today, that's what the youth needs, to be proud of it.”
“My aunt, explains Mara, was a very congruent woman. She always lived as she thought and I think that the pride she had for being Mexican, for wearing these costumes made by indigenous people, she showed it and I think that's the most important thing, that everyone can be proud of who we are and where we were born and what we do.”
Photo: Mara Romeo, niece of the Mexican artist and Mara de Anda.
But, what made Frida Kahlo so great? Without a doubt, her talent. Through more than 150 artistic works, she captured her vision of the world and her vision of herself through magical realism style and self-portraits.
Even renowned Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes referred to her as an Aztec goddess. But he was not the only one who elevated her as a deity. Her legacy was so amazing that during the 80s, —according to Mara de Anda, daughter of Mara Romeo— the "Fridamania" began, which is the fascination for everything that has the face or the art of Frida Kahlo.
In those years, a cult called “Kahloismo” was born. Today "Kahloismo" is a religion that idolizes the painter as a true goddess.
However, Frida also had a human side. "She was a great woman, strong, congruent, passionate, she was the flesh and blood aunt who laughed, the loving one," says Mara de Anda.
“Today, we all want more or less the same: freedom, being a fighter, being independent, all these beautiful adjectives that Frida finally had. I think that everyone wants to be someone like her. So you begin to identify yourself, and then there is again this mysticism around the life and history of Frida.”
But also, there is a Frida beyond the artistic: she showed her political stance promoting women's rights and accompanied leftist social movements.
Mara Romeo explains that Frida Kahlo wanted freedom for everyone and she always fought for it. “In this house, Frida gave a basic food basket to 500 single women every Saturday.”
Although her life was not easy. When she was 6 years old she was diagnosed with polio. Years later she suffered an accident that fractured her spine, but she never stopped painting. Her mother built her a special easel adapted with a mirror so that she could paint herself while she was convalescing in bed.
The essence of Frida was captured in the most important art venues in the world, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Her figure even reached pop culture. "On a trip to Japan I saw a girl on the subway wearing tennis shoes with Frida's face and I said: wow, she has come so far. I think that Frida came to stay and to teach us all, at least all Mexicans, that it is possible, that you can be the best, that you can be great whatever you want," says Mara de Anda proudly.
Frida's legacy has transcended barriers, due to her talent and her passion for Mexico. For all this, although 68 years have passed since her death, Frida Kahlo is the most important ambassadress of Mexican identity.