I am close to completing my research on Frida Kahlo (for this project at least), ready for my final art piece. Having watched the fantastic BBC documentary, Becoming Frida Kahlo, I was compelled to read Letters to Mama, a collection of personal letters written by Frida to her “precious mama” sharing anecdotes of her time in the USA, her woes and anxieties.
Most articles I have read and documentaries I have seen are about how others perceive Frida Kahlo. Aside from her art, the reading of which is also tainted by the perspective of yourself and others, it’s rare to get Frida’s unfiltered, unedited point of view. These letters are private and it’s such a privilege to vicariously live through Frida in her own words.
Reading her ask “Don’t you think?” after an idea she has or ending her letters with “Have all the love from your daughter who adores you,” is so incredibly relatable. Ordinary. It confirms what Héctor Jaimes* says in the introduction:
“She is the painter who is already part of us; we recognise ourselves in her.”
These letters are expressive, funny, and convey such tenderness and care for her parents, her family, and her animals. So much so, I missed my own mum while reading:
“You have no idea how much I would like to be with all of you, but I will soon be back and we’ll see each other again…”
Her own words, albeit translated, are an incredible insight into her relationship with her parents. Her vulnerability and yearning to be close to her loved ones and to be at home is so tangible, so reminiscent of my own:
“Each day that passes by is one day less to return, and for that I am happy. I never forget you and you have no idea how much I miss you. Diego even makes fun of me because he says I am like a little girl.”
Frida wears her proverbial mask for the rest of the world but allows herself the space to be open and honest with her mother and embracing her Spanish/German parental roots rather than distancing herself from it. This is evident by her signing the letters with the original spelling of her name “your little Frieda” rather than Frida. She is always speaking as a daughter, never as an artist or a wife or a woman struggling in a new world:
“You can’t imagine how bored I have been these days…I am left alone…so, you can imagine the kind of stupid life I have…”
I believe reading these letters in Spanish and being able to understand the cultural vocabulary and inside jokes would have added further appreciation for this amazing, perfectly flawed icon, but all the same it enforced my admiration for her. Despite her lifelong struggles and losses, she remains stoic:
“…there is no other way but to be strong…”
Nothing diminishes her ability to love. If anything, she loves more because of her experiences.
For the love of Frida Kahlo or if you simply miss your own mum, I highly recommend reading this book.
*Letters to Mama 1923-1932 is edited, translated and introduced by Héctor Jaimes.