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FRIDA KAHLO, THE BRUSH OF ANGUISH

Tree of Hope, Part 3

Drug-ridden, alcoholic, and smoking heavily, Frida painted very little in 1953 but a few still lifes of fruit, done with an unsteady hand and heavy paint. She was fitted with an artificial leg but disliked wearing it, preferring to use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. "They amputated my leg six months ago," she wrote in her diary in February 1954. "They have given me centuries of torture and at moments I almost lost my reason. I keep on wanting to kill myself. Diego is what keeps me from it through my vain idea that he would miss me. He h;1s told me that and I believe it. But never in my life have I suffered more. I will wait a while...."

One of Frida's last paintings is a still life of ripe, red watermelons, inscribed with the words "Viva la vida," long live life. Even so, she went to the hospital twice, in April and May, possibly for attempted suicide. On July 2, pale and weak, she made her last public appearance at a demonstration protesting C.I.A. intervention in the overthrow of leftist President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala. Without makeup or her usual colorful outfit, her hair covered by a wrinkled scarf tied under her chin, she rode at Diego's side in her wheelchair, holding up a placard declaring "Por la paz," for peace.

Marching in the rain with the crowds was a strong gesture of support for Diego and a political cause, but one that exacted a final toll on her frail health. She returned home exhausted and soon developed bronchial pneumonia. During the next days she felt tired and dispirited. On her forty-seventh birthday, July 6, a few friends came to celebrate, waiting for her to come out of her drugged stupor so they could see her dressed up, vivacious and happy, for what proved to be the last time. Frida died seven days later from a pulmonary embolism, according to the death certificate signed by her psychiatrist, Ramon Parres. Her death might actually have been by suicide or an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol, but no postmortem was performed.

The last entry in her diary is a sketch of a black angel with the words, "Espero alegre la salida - y espero no volver jamas. Frida" (I hope for a happy exit and I hope never to come back).

Placed in a coffin, her hair dressed, her hands bejeweled, Frida's body was taken through rainy streets to lie in state at a government building, the Palace of Fine Arts. The director, Andres 1duarte, an old friend from the Prepa, granted this tribute with the understanding that Diego would not turn it into a leftist political event. Diego agreed, but also assented when one of the Fridos, Arturo Garda Bustos, placed a red Communist flag with hammer and sickle over her bier, causing days of turmoil that Frida would have loved. Diego's refusal to remove the flag helped him gain his long-sought readmission to the Communist party some months later, but Iduarte lost his job.

Frida's last public appearance, on July 2, 1954, at a rally protesting C.I.A. involvement in Guatemala.  Diego is behind her.  Juan O'Gorman to her right.

Friday's body surrounded by family and mourners, Palace of Fine Arts

Frida's casket being carried from the Palace of Fine Arts

Frida's funeral procession, July 14, 1954

A great crowd came to pay respect to Frida for the last time and, under lightly drizzling rain, walked behind the hearse that carried her body to the venerable Panteon Civil de Dolores for cremation. This was her choice: having spent so much of her life flat on her back, she had always said emphatically that she did not want to be buried lying down.

Director Iduarte spoke, Carlos Pellicer read his moving sonnets, and Adelina Zendejas, a friend since Prepa days, remembered Frida with a few words. With Diego and her sisters stood David Alfaro Siqueiros, Juan O'Gorman, Miguel Covarrubias, and a host of other friends. Her body was laid out on a straw petate and rolled into the ovens. As the flames consumed her remains, Frida's friends and relatives sang songs - the Mexican national hymn, the "Internacional," "Los Cuatro Generales," "La Adelita," "Adios mi Chaparrita," and "Benjamin el Minero." Afterward, Diego gathered her ashes into a silk scarf to take them home.

In July 1958, four years to the month after her death, the Casa Azul was opened to the public as a museum. The tall windows facing the street have been bricked in, but the walls are still painted blue, and Judas figures still loom at the entry. One can walk through the thick-walled rooms and gaze at the cupboard filled with toys, the retablos hung on the stairway wall, the painted pages of an open diary. Upstairs, an unfinished portrait of Stalin waits on the studio easel. From the hallway through an open door there is a view down to the garden, where doves still nest in pottery niches set into the walls. On the canopied bed sits a decorated plaster corset, mocking testimony to pain transcended. The ashes of Frida Kahlo rest nearby in an ancient pre-Conquest urn. Although she is gone, she lives on through her paintings, her story, and the silence of the Casa Azul.

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