Facial Hair Friday: Frida Kahlo

Aside from her powerful self-portraits, Mexican artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo is perhaps most known for her unibrow, a purposeful statement rejecting stereotypes about what conventional beauty looks like. She is the subject of today’s Facial Hair Friday. 

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born in 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico. Known as Frida Kahlo, she enjoyed art as a child, and after a devastating bus accident when she was 18, she turned to painting. 

Frida Kahlo, photographed by Toni Frissell for Vogue, 1937. (JFK Presidential Library, National Archives)

Throughout the course of her life, Kahlo created nearly 150 paintings, of which 55 were images of herself. Her self-portraits, such as “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” (1940) and “The Two Fridas” (1939), are wonderful examples of her painting style, which was full of imagery and symbolism. 

From 1932 to 1933, Frida Kahlo lived in Detroit, Michigan, with her husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera. Rivera had been commissioned to paint Detroit Industry, the impressive cycle of fresco murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. As Rivera worked on the murals, Kahlo, who was a relatively unknown painter at the time, began her early definitive work.

In the National Archives we have motion picture films documenting the work on the project. In one of them, around minute 2:12, you can see Kahlo sketching and laughing.

Detroit Industry Murals, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1932. (National Archives Identifier 92632)

While she looks happy in the film, she did not enjoy her time in Detroit. While there, she faced isolation and endured a difficult pregnancy, fearing complications caused by the bus accident. She ended up suffering a miscarriage while in Detroit, which some art historians point to as spurring the form of self-representation which became her greatest contribution to art history.

It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month. Visit our web page for resources on related records and how we are commemorating the month.

7 thoughts on “Facial Hair Friday: Frida Kahlo

  1. That also looks like her at 3:08-3:12 on the scaffold, bending, then turning around and looking at the camera. Does this raise the possibility that Kahlo assisted with these murals?
    Thanks for posting this, those Detroit murals are mind-blowing, definitely worth a visit.

  2. Go ahead; make me feel stupid for visiting Detroit (a long time ago) and NOT seeing this incredible work!
    steve kelly

      1. From the PBS documentary on his life:
        “…Diego Rivera, born in 1886, was one of the leaders of the Mexican Mural Movement of the 1920s. A member of the Communist party, he created popular political murals throughout Mexico that often included attacks on the ruling class, the church and capitalism…”

        To establish this, you need only look at the hundreds of documents, speeches, and other materials he generated during his lifetime.
        The broader question I would pose though is, why does this matter? He was clearly a brilliant artist and his political views, while sometimes apparent in his art (for example, the 1929 murals he did for the Communist League of America), the bulk of his work is fairly neutral.

  3. Brian, what a brilliant response. Why would it matter, anyway? Historical references on anything we admire or abhor is important.

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