They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality. – Frida Kahlo
The Surrealist movement originated in the early 20th century in poetry and literature and experimented with a new way of expression, which sought to liberate the concealed imagination of the subconscious.
Often categorized as Surrealist, Frida Kahlo herself disliked the title.
Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Mexico City, and grew up there in her family’s home, later referred to as the Casa Azul. Kahlo’s mother was Amerindian and Spanish, and her father was of German descent.
Kahlo became famous for her outspokenness early in life, and even joined Cachucas, a socialist-nationalist group that studied literature. In 1925, she suffered an accident when she rode a bus that collided with a trolley car. Kahlo fractured her spine, hip and pelvis, leaving her in physical and psychological pain. She wore a full-body cast for several months. To ease her pain, Kahlo started to paint while in bed and created her first self-portrait.
“I am not sick. I am broken, but I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint,” wrote Kahlo.
Understanding Kahlo and her paintings requires historical context and a willingness to understand her mental state. Kahlo was born in the midst of Mexican political chaos, which inspired works which can be described as bizarre, disturbing and boldly open.
Although her work is often described as Surrealist, she once wrote that she never knew she was a Surrealist artist “until Andrè Breton came to Mexico and told [her that she] was one.”