THE LOST DIARY OF FRIDA KAHLO
By Don Conway
Frida Kahlo, artist, wife of Diego Rivera, and symbol of Mexican womanhood, was born July 6, 1907 and died July 13, 1954 in the same house in Coyoacán, Mexico. Her house is now the Museo de Frida Kahlo. For almost thirty of her forty-seven years, she lived in pain and suffering. Her physical pain was due to a horrific accident when she was eighteen years old. She was tormented by a number of back surgeries, a deformed right leg, several abortions, and miscarriages. Her inner, psychological suffering was the result of her tempestuous, off-again, on-again marriage and total devotion to Diego Rivera.
They were married in 1929, divorced in 1938, and remarried in 1940. Frida tolerated Diego’s many infidelities while he was consumed with jealousy over her many, many affairs which included several lesbian lovers. Their marriage suffered from sharp differences in their psychological make-ups, financial difficulties, partly due to Frida’s lifelong medical expenses and, in the beginning, Frida’s having to live under the shadow of Mexico’s greatest muralist. By the 1940’s, their positions began to be reversed. The great Mexican Muralist Period of 1920-1950 was fading, while Frida’s artistic career was just reaching its zenith.
For all of their adult lives, Freda and Diego were devoted and active Communists, though there were a few years when they were expelled from the party, because of their aid to Leon Trotsky. Eventually, however, both were reinstated as party members. While most of Diego’s murals celebrated Communist themes, Frida’s paintings were mainly self-portraits that reflected her own inner feelings and inner turmoil. From her early adulthood, Frida cultivated a public image of a Tehuana or Mexican peasant woman — the classic heroic sufferer. For most of her adult life, she wore the long colorful skirts, blouses, and rebosos of lower class Mexican women. This is the image of Frida that is most commonly associated with her to this day.
Starting in the 1940’s, when her career gained momentum, Frida– always aware of her pending death–began to realize that she would be leaving a legacy of paintings, letters, colorful costumes, and her “public” diary etc. to the Mexican people. Secretly, however, she kept a “private” diary in which she recorded the intimate details of her life, her love for Diego, and her lifelong struggle against pain. As far as is known, the only person who was aware of her secret diary was her longtime nurse, friend, and companion Judith Ferreto. It was Ferreto who found Frida’s body on July 13, 1954. Though her death certificate stated the cause of death as coronary thrombosis, Ferreto, who kept count of Frida’s medications, implied that she had committed suicide with an overdose of pain medications.
It is apparent that upon Frida’s death, Ferreto kept the secret diary. When Ferreto died in 1972, the secret diary was found amongst her possessions. The poignant entry from that diary, which is presented here, is dated August 22, 1953, the evening before Frida was to have her right leg amputated.
Aug. 22, 1953
About 11 pm
Tomorrow Dr. Velasco y Polo is going to cut off my right leg.
For more than 25 years death has been stalking me. Step by step and inch by inch he has Tortured me with pain. Tomorrow will be a big victory for death as he begins to dismember my body piece by piece. I wonder how long it will take him to complete the job? Perhaps it is time for me to cheat death and take the easy way out.* Diego says he cannot live without me in his life. In many ways, he is terribly fragile. I do not think I can inflict my death on him. I know he will suffer and I cannot bear to cause him pain. No! I must continue to put up with my own pain in order to save him. When he came to visit me this evening** it twisted my heart to see his anguish over my condition.
So I will continue to live and paint. That is just as well since I have not completed my message to the world about the injustices of Capitalism and the plight of the working man. The Party seems to be grateful and is using some of my paintings, and my reputation, to its advantage.
The loss of my leg only causes me to reaffirm the passions that govern my
Life — painting, Diego, the Party, Mexico and my own life. So much yet to do and say about each of these.
Viva la Vida!
* She did not commit suicide at this time.
** Though they were married Frida and Diego were living in separate houses.
Don Conway is an award-winning Architect and Writer (two golds and a silver medal from a national writing competition) also a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University. Says he is working hard on book number four.