Critical Context

The 1990’s brought multiculturalism, a renewed feminism, and a post-Cold War reevaluation of communism to the United States. Malka Drucker capitalizes on this trend to tell the story of a physically handicapped Mexican woman of diverse ethnicity and religious background and communist affiliation, who stood up for her country’s Indian minority and native art and its revolutionary regime while despising those who sat in cafés discussing culture and art. Drucker’s biography is a groundbreaking work, but she has spirited competition, not only in the form of such books as Hayden Herrera’s Frida Kahlo: The Paintings (1991) or the abridged and translated version of Martha Zamora’s Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish (1990) but also from Kahlo herself. Any verbal recounting of the artist’s tortures pale beside Kahlo’s dramatic pictorial representation of her own bloody miscarriage, the operation on her spine, the amputation of her leg, or the morose longing for her absent and unfaithful husband.

The relatively few color plates and black-and-white photographs in Drucker’s book—such as of the gigantic Rivera holding his wife’s hand in her 1931 painting Frida and Diego Rivera—are well selected, but, given Kahlo’s social and political activism, at least one relevant illustration would have been appropriate for inclusion: for example, Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick (1954). Indeed, a few days before her death in July, 1954, Kahlo got out of bed to appear at a public rally protesting the U.S. involvement in the toppling of the leftist government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala.

The bibliography and, especially, the chronology of the major events in Kahlo’s life are very helpful. Art historian Laurie Anderson’s introduction places things in context and raises many questions about Kahlo’s enigmatic persona.