Lately I’ve been thinking about the roof over my head. I feel safe underneath it.
I can enjoy a cup of tea, gather for family celebrations and experience the joys of living. But I am ashamed when I realize how often I take these things for granted. There’s so much suffering and conflict in the world.
But I’ve also come to realize a strange truth – when sadness happens under any roof it’s an invitation to grow. Most of us would choose to ignore it and stay in our personal comfort zones, if we could.
But when tragedy and sadness make room for inspiration and hope, the world heals. Just look at some of the most magnificent roofs on the planet – the Sistine Chapel and the beautiful blue ceiling of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. They didn’t just happen.
These great works of art were born from ideas that harnessed a collective body of beliefs about God. They inspire awe and lift us with anticipation and hope. Their emotional impact is undeniable. And we don’t need to travel to Italy or Turkey to find amazing stories that live right under our own roof. They live with us and in countless stories about historical women and art.
This is especially true when we look at the legendary Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. WomanScape celebrates her passion for building a life inside and outside of the walls of her azul casa – the Blue House. The photo above shows Frida leaning against it.
Frida Kahlo Building Blue Skies
Frida embodied “blue sky thinking” long before business consultants coined the phrase. She chose to think outside of the box and did this by wrestling with the painful events in her life. She fashioned her own wings with a feminist strength and uncommon tenacity, compared to many of the women living during Friday’s time (1907-1954. Her secret? Frida faced adversity head on – unabashedly – and on her own terms.
Her journey started six years after she was born in Coyocoán, Mexico when Frida contracted polio. Bedridden for nine months, she learned to walk again but with a crippled right leg. This photo of her leg brace illustrates how crudely constructed and painful it must have been for Frida.
Just when things were improving and Frida turned eighteen, she suffered another setback. The bus she was traveling on collided with a train and she was seriously injured. During the ordeal, a steel handrail impaled her spine and hip. Miraculously, she survived and learned to walk again, but the pain would haunt her relentlessly.
The events that shaped Frida’s history were frequent subjects in her artwork. The overturned bus and the crude corset strapped to her back were important influences in her identity. She needed the brace for relief and support, but their place in her artwork also helped her endure long episodes of bedridden suffering.
This isn’t the first time WomanScape has touched on Frida’s life. She is mentioned as a powerful role model in Mexican Women – A Legacy of Freedom Fighters. Her strength shines because most people struggle to see opportunity in the depths of despair. Try telling a mother who has lost her child or the family whose son has become a gunshot victim that there’s an opportunity for goodness. Without digging deeper and searching for meaning, many of us become are victimized by our isolation and grief.
But many a wise man and woman in history have thankfully reminded us that we are not alone. Frida married and lived a full life, enjoying a solo exhibition in Paris before her death at just 47 years of age. Her husband, famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera, influenced her work greatly even though their styles remained completely different. Frida’s tumultuous marriage was filled with more disappointment when she suffered two miscarriages, but she used it in her work to bring attention to cultural and gender issues revolving around expectations and discrimination.
Frida’s Work & Life Remain Popular Subjects of Interest
This, in part, explains why Frida’s popularity has grown. She used her tormented body as a canvas for her work well before contemporary artists like Russian Marina Abramovic. Frida made more than 55 self-portraits, frequently examining the duality of her identity and painful view of herself. She grappled with perceived conflicts over her European style versus her Mexican heritage. But her willingness to tackle gender issues of repression and liberation seem even more heroic in our modern world.
Nowhere is this more apparent than her 1939 portrait The Two Fridas. The painting exposes her ripped heart and the unloved side of her existence. And yet, throughout her life, Frida’s art was a constant source of healing and contentment. Many of her paintings like this one work through the trauma of losing her healthy body. Of the 143 paintings she produced, Frida is overwhelmingly the central subject and there is almost a reverence or glorification of her pain.
Frida’s legacy continues to be relevant for a myriad of reasons. Women identify with her humanity, her bodily impediments and her efforts to champion cultural and gender rights. An artist friend of mine who designs and curates spectacular home products in her business Sister Golden creates amazing images of Frida. They regularly sell out, like this “Independence Frida” art piece. It makes me smile – seeing Frida’s happy face and the colorful florals she would have loved. (For more photos and works of art like these, visit www.sistergolden.com)
I realize blue skies aren’t guaranteed in life. But we need to dream and embrace the role they play in our shared humanity.
Let’s paint our rooftop with the same passion as Michelangelo brought to the Sistine Chapel. Before his brush strokes, the ceiling was a simple blue color with a few gold stars I hope that when tragedy strikes, we gather under one roof to find solace and the strength to live better.