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Frida Kahlo black and white headshot

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Painter, Showcases Disability in Her Art

Frida Kahlo black and white headshot

Frida Kahlo

Rockville, Md., Oct. 15 – Frida Kahlo, a Mexican woman who had multiple disabilities including polio as a child and spinal and pelvis damage from a car accident, became a world-renowned self-portrait painter.

At the age of six, Kahlo was bedridden will polio. The polio virus cause damaged to her right leg and foot. She was left with a limp. Her father thought that playing soccer, wrestling and swimming would help her recover.

As a teenager, she was in a car accident. A steel handrail was impaled into her hip and came out the other side. Her spine and pelvis were damaged significantly. While in recovery, she began to paint.

self-portrait showing metal hardware and a broken spine

The Broken Column

Some examples of her art that portray her disability include The Broken Column (1944). In this painting, she depicts herself standing on the beach. The beach is in the background while her body is shown in the foreground of the painting. Her body is open down the middle showing a rod and restrictive medical corsets, which she had to wear for most of her life. There are nails embedded into her skin – throughout her body.

In the Tree of Hope, Keep Firm, she painted two versions of herself. In the background, on the left side, is the sun; on the right side, is the moon. The ground on both sides is broken with deep crevices going across the canvas. Kahlo painted the back of her body with an open gash going down her back and across her hip. The left side of the painting shows her dressed in a red gown holding her restrictive medical corsets. She also is holding a sign that says, “Tree of hope stands firm.”

split self-portrait

Tree of Hope, Keep Firm

Throughout her life, Kahlo came face-to-face with her disabilities and turned them into art. She has many paintings depicting her disabilities. She never let her disability prevent her from pursuing her passion. As Kahlo said, “I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”

Studies show many people within the Latino and other communities hide their disability due to negative stigmas, but Kahlo illustrated hers in her art. It is because of this, that she is the perfect candidate for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which is highlighting individuals with disabilities who are extremely successful in their chosen career.

The global economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. People like Kahlo have made a difference.

Meet the Author

Katie Townes

Katie Townes is a Communications Fellow at RespectAbility and a graduate of City University of New York City College. She wants to break perceived thoughts people might have about a person with a disability. She created a platform for gamers with and without disabilities to come together in a judgement-free environment.

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