Frida Kahlo’s Political Agency, Often Ignored

A brief introduction to the essay you are about to read:

Frida Kahlo, a disabled revolutionary German-Mexican artist of the 20th century, married Diego Rivera in 1929, adding the label of ‘wife’ to her list of identities. For some art historians, ‘disabled’ and ‘wife’ become the focus of their study on Kahlo’s life and works. This narrow scope ignores historical and social contexts of each work and the artist herself, creating a gendered analysis. Their analyses assume personal emotion drives the motivation behind Kahlo’s work, and deny her any agency outside of the domestic sphere. While many art historians verify Kahlo participates in political debates, they do not consider how this informs her artworks. Other art historians prefer to acknowledge not only Frida’s social relationships in the private sphere, but also in the public sphere. By increasing the context of each piece, such as including historical movements and social normalities of the time, art historians gain a deeper understanding of Kahlo and her agency. The link between her engagement in social and political movements, as well as an understanding of the gendered social norms existing in Mexico at the time, adds an entirely new level to Kahlo’s works that almost always defy interpretations assuming an emotionally driven, tragedy built artist.

In this paper, I will introduce two book chapters by Sarah Lowe and Margaret Lindauer, respectively, and a journal article by Marlene Goldsmith to explore the various way historians draw conclusions about Frida Kahlo, including analyzing and contextualizing the way they inform their argument. An important part of this paper will be understanding whether or not the author uses a national or international context to support their research, as it either broadens or narrows the mindset in which we view Kahlo’s works. This vital aspect will be inform us whether the author attempts to understand how Kahlo’s identities interact with one another in society, rather than how they function solely in the domestic sphere. While authors Lowe and Lindauer view Kahlo’s works considering national historical and social context, resulting in an analysis crediting Kahlo with social and political agency, Goldsmith’s international philosophical perspective of her work enforces a one-dimensional, gendered scope, amounting Kahlo to nothing more than a wife dealing with her personal tragedies.

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