FRIDA KAHLO AND HER PARROTS by Sally Blanchard
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist (1907-1954) who kept parrots and did several self portraits with them. My university degree was in art and I took quite a few art history courses with my goal being a Masters degree in art history. We studied Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist who was a notoriously unfaithful husband, but I don’t even remember even a mention of his wife Frida Kahlo. Now she is perhaps more famous than he is — especially with the film biography that came out in 2002. Many of Kahlo’s paintings are self-portraits and/or biographical and contain a great deal of surrealistic imagery. Frida was not only an accomplished artist; she was also a revolutionary, rebel, communist, bisexual, cross-dresser, wife, disabled person, rebel, and animal lover.
Frida Kahlo had polio as a child and was in a near fatal bus/trolley collision as a young adult. Her life experiences, physical health, politics, addictions, and, even her marriage, left her feeling tortured and isolated. Some of her paintings could be considered quite gruesome. Only her paintings seemed to assuage her loneliness. She was also very fond of animals and according to various art historians; she usually had several in her life. Many of her paintings show her with her pet animals including parrots, a Chihuahua and other dogs, and monkeys.
In 1941 and 1942, her self-portraits with her Double-yellow Head Amazon, Bonito; her painting titled ‘Me and My Parrots;’ and ‘Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot’ seem to have little of the primitive symbolism as many of her other paintings. In recent years, Kahlo has become somewhat of a cult figure. There is now a great demand for items relating to her and her art. Clay figures made by various Mexican artisans of Frida and her life seem to be very popular. It appears from her paintings that Frida Kahlo had 2 double yellow-headed parrots and 2 red-lored parrots but she may have had other birds. What I have often wondered is why her Amazons in her painting "Me and my Parrots" seem to have been feather pickers, which is not as common with these parrots as with some other parrot-family birds. Could it have something to do with the fact that Frida Kahlo is as famous for her tortured soul as she is for her painting? She was suicidal from time to time. Perhaps her parrots picked up her energy? Her self-portrait also shows her smoking a cigarette and her biography stated that she was a chain smoker, so her Amazons might have had health problems based on second-hand smoke and/or nicotine dermatitis.