The Emergence of an Icon: The Frida Kahlo Cult

Teresa Neva Tate, Portland State University

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At her death in 1954, Frida Kahlo was known as little more than the wife of muralist Diego Rivera. Since then her art and personae have taken on a cult-like following and she has become an icon of popular culture. Thus far Frida' s repute has stretched across three decades, from the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s. Frida' s popularity is viewed as primarily emerging from the Women's Movement of the 1970s. However, interest from many other groups have carried her image into the 1980s and 1990s. Aside from the Women's Movement, Frida's popularity reflects a growing interest in Mexico, specifically the "romanticized" image of Mexico, in the wake of rising international relations between Mexico and the United States.

Each subsequent exhibit of Frida' s work brought with it a plethora of articles and exhibition catalogues. By the late 1980s books on Frida' s biography and her paintings began flooding the market along with articles from various periodicals, from fashion, to medical, to women's studies journals. Numerous other publications on Frida have included calendars, postcards, and a cookbook. A book of Frida' s letters and her diary were published in 1995.

The associations around Frida's name have created the legend of her personality. She is viewed as a genius painter, one who expressed her emotions and life on canvas, who spoke from her heart and who has become remembered as a martyred saint. Scholars and the general public alike have latched onto Frida's image, making her into more than a mere artist, rather into a remarkably insightful and brave individual. This popular myth has been supported by Frida' s own lifestyle, by her flamboyant attire, scandalous relationships, and internationally recognized friendships. Frida was, however, an individual who suffered from the same insecurities that much of the population does: insecure in love and acceptance.

Frida had the ability to mask her emotions of insecurity with her physical pain, which she then exercised on the canvas. It is this ability to deal with her emotional pain that has brought her life and work to the cult-like status that her memory now enjoys.