As a result of an accident at age 15, Kahlo turned her attention from a medical career to painting. Drawing on her personal experiences, her works are often shocking in their stark portrayal of pain and the harsh lives of women. Fifty-five of her 143 paintings are self-portraits incorporating a personal symbolism complete with graphic anatomical references. She was also influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, aspects of which she portrayed in bright colors, with a mixture of realism and symbolism. Her paintings attracted the attention of the artist Diego Rivera, whom she later married.
Although Kahlo's work is sometimes classified as surrealist and she did exhibit several times with European surrealists, she herself disputed the label. Her preoccupation with female themes and the figurative candor with which she expressed them made her something of a feminist cult figure in the last decades of the 20th cent. Some of her work is exhibited at the Frida Kahlo Museum, situated in her birthplace and subsequent home in suburban Mexico City.
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