Sexist Headline From 1933 Shows Frida Kahlo’s Obstacles to Being Recognized as an Artist

Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Sexism
Photo: Detroit News.

Today, Frida Kahlo is recognized as one of the most important artists in the history of 20th-century art. In fact, her name resonates much louder than that of her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

But this has not always been the case.

An article about the painter published in 1933 in the Detroit News and written by Florence Davies described Kahlo thus, “wife of the master mural painter gleefully dabbles in Works of art.”

The newspaper clipping rescued by My Modern Met demonstrates the obstacles that the most influential women in history have had to face in order to be recognized as professionals in their own right.

As Madeleine Muzdakis says in her article for the portal, “the article itself is actually a window into the feminism and artistic confidence of a young Kahlo.”

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are one of the most iconic couples in history. The two artists married in 1929 when Kahlo was in her early twenties. Following Rivera’s professional career, the couple repeatedly traveled, settling in Mexico, San Francisco, and eventually, Detroit.

The Detroit News article coincides with the time Rivera was working on a mural commissioned by the Detroit Institute of Arts in the spring of 1932.

While in the United States, Kahlo was actively painting as her health permitted, but her work was not yet widely exhibited. At the age of 25, she gave her now-iconic interview to the Detroit News after her famous husband’s work called the newspaper’s attention.

Frida Kahlo Newspaper BeLatina Latinx
Photo: Openculture.

Despite its regrettable headline, the article offers a window into the feminist spirit of Frida Kahlo, who, in conversation with Davies, refuses to allow anyone to take credit for her skill.

“No, I didn’t study with Diego… I didn’t study with anyone. I just started to paint.” Davies was careful to acknowledge the talent of her subject, writing, “The fact remains that she has acquired a very skillful and beautiful style, painting in the small with miniature-like technique, which is as far removed from the heroic figures of Rivera as could well be imagined.” The article also includes a famous quote from a laughing Kahlo speaking on her famous husband. “Of course, he does pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist.”

As My Modern Met explains, the Detroit News argues that while Davies wrote the article, the headline was probably written by a male editor.

Whatever the subtext, the reality is that despite the shadows to which history has tried to confine women artists, the tenacity of women like Frida Kahlo is often the force that turns the tables around.