photo by Charles Edward Case

Between now and May, the Brooklyn Museum is offering an exhibit featuring the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Titled Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, the show is a comprehensive overview of Kahlo’s life and work. In addition to her paintings, letters and film clips and photos and clothing reveal a glimpse into the life and times of this celebrated artist, feminist and activist.

Frida Kahlo died at the relatively early age of 47. She experienced pain throughout her short life, much of it physical. She suffered polio as a child, and a bus accident when she was a young adult broke numerous bones and shattered her pelvis. She also struggled with emotional pain, born of her physical challenges as well as her tumultuous relationship with painter Diego Rivera and the reality that her work was not taken as seriously as his.

Like many before and after her, she expressed her complicated reality through the art she created. And not just with paint on a two-dimensional canvas. Self-conscious about her body, she started wearing traditional Mexican dress—colorful, floor length skirts, handmade jewelry, local flowers adorning her hair. Soon her clothing came to stand for her alliance with her indigenous ancestry. Her posture needed to be supported by wearing plaster casts around her midsection. She painted these casts with images both descriptive and aspirational: flowers, a heart connected to images she cared about, pregnancies begun and ended within her. In both art and life, she took the raw material of her struggles, added a critical eye and an expansive imagination, and created beautiful work that speaks across culture, gender and time.

Despite her religious roots, Frida Kahlo did not identify as a Christian. Still, her endeavors are theological: she sought meaning in chaos and drew timeless beauty out of time-bound sorrow. While she made it clear in her writings that she resented her struggles, she interpreted her reality through the lens of the eternal. Perhaps that is what Jesus means when He talks about blessing in the aspects of life we would rather avoid; that it is in such experiences that we seek the transcendent. And that when we share our discoveries along the way, we expand our collective understanding of God.

Kahlo in 1932, photographed by her father Guillermo Kahlo