The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) had a life filled with pain. At the age of 6, she contracted polio, and this caused a paralysis of the right leg from which Kahlo took one year to recover. Then, in 1925, Kahlo was involved in a horrific traffic accident: the school bus she was travelling on collided with a streetcar, and a steel handrail penetrated Kahlo’s lower torso, leaving her with a fractured pelvis and collarbone, two broken ribs, a broken leg and a crushed foot. Her spinal column was also broken in three places.
Following the accident, the medics who arrived on the scene did not expect Kahlo to live, and she was left with the fatally wounded, so that her extensive injuries were not immediately treated. She survived, however, and then spent months in a full-body cast. Subsequently, Kahlo had more than 30 operations, and suffered from chronic pain for the rest of her life. Later on in life, Kahlo had several miscarriages, and had her right leg amputated.
Kahlo’s work is a reflection of the physical and mental anguish that she endured, and many of her paintings are self-portraits in which her pain is starkly depicted. In The Broken Column (1944, above), the landscape in the background, is broken, as was the artist’s body following her accident. Kahlo’s open torso reveals a spine consisting of a broken Greek ionic column. She wears a painful corset, and tears pour from her eyes. The skin on her face and body is pierced by many nails, including a large one piercing her heart, which represents the emotional pain caused by husband Diego Rivera.