The Kahlo mystique

Celebration of iconic artist draws many who are influenced by her

EDINBURG — Surrounded by dozens of other art vendors here for the sixth annual FridaFest event, Anna Marie Sanchez-Varela was laying out her own artworks at a booth she shared with her husband, who is also an artist, Saturday evening.

Hosted by the city of Edinburg, FridaFest honors the life and legacy of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The night’s festivities were complemented by historical notes of her legacy, offering attendees glimpses into Kahlo’s life as an artist and feminist. The event, which took place at the city hall courtyard, landed on the day the beloved artist died 65 years ago at the age of 47.

While unpacking the pieces she brought, Sanchez-Valera smiled as she looked at each of her prints. She said that she was reminiscing about the humor of her art, and was reflecting on the healing that painting them brought her from microscopic polyangiitis, a painful disorder she has been facing for the past decade.

Sanchez-Valera, of Elsa, said that FridaFest is an event that she holds close to her heart since she can relate to the way Kahlo resorted to art to alleviate pain. Some people, she said, even consider her and her husband, Benjamin “the Frida and Diego of the Valley.”

“I sort of suffer the way she suffered,” Maria said, who taught art at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School and Edcouch-Elsa High School. “I had to retire and it’s just constant pain, but art makes me happy.

“I understand Frida as an artist; how she felt like she had to depict her pain through paint.”

Kahlo contracted polio at 6 years old, which crippled her right leg and caused it to be thinner than her left. Then, at 18, she was in a traumatic bus accident that caused an iron handrail to impale through her pelvis.

The time Kahlo spent bedridden after the bus accident was when her passion for art sparked, and she started to produce self-portraits while still in a full-body cast. Anna said that she experienced a similar revelation in her painting career.

“My paintings before college were depressing,” said Anna, who attended the University of Texas Pan-American, which is now UT-Rio Grande Valley. “But while getting my masters, I realized ‘why not make happy paintings, why not spread happiness.’”

Since then, Anna has been producing satirical paintings, portraying both personal experiences and political perspectives.

Hanging above were lines of colorful papel picado banners, connecting the many booths of Frida-themed art. Ranging from decorated mugs to embellished pots for plants, art was either being sold or produced at every corner of the event.

Sophia Guerra, 4, paints during Frida Fest on Saturday at the Edinburg City Hall Courtyard. (Joel Martinez/

Eddy Espinoza of Pharr was drawing a portrait of Kahlo on the pavement of the courtyard using chalk, adding onto the series of Frida-themed chalk-work already there.

Espinoza said that he had been working on the portrait since 7 a.m. and was driven by the event’s focus on empowerment of women.

“This is a message to women that they are very much appreciated and respected,” said Espinoza, the founder an art business, Free World Ink. “Maybe not by everybody, unfortunately, but I am fighting against that.”

Nine-year-old Deliahla Camero donned a black traditional Mexican dress, which had red and green lace trim at the hem of the layers of her long skirt. And, with black makeup, had a unibrow and mustache drawn on her, a signature feature of Kahlo’s self portraits.

Growing up, Kahlo was encouraged by her father to ignore gender norms that confided women to femme pursuits. Instead, as a child Kahlo took wrestling lessons and smoked, and in self portraits, included her “masculine features” which were her unibrow and mustache.

At FridaFest, many women and men, of all ages, sported the look as a sign of pride in Kahlo’s way of claiming independence.

Holding a stuffed monkey, one of the animals featured in many of Kahlo’s portraits, Camero said that after learning about Kahlo’s life, she was inspired by the artists’ perseverance.

“Maybe you need to know about who she (Kahlo) is and what she has been through to know about strength,” Camero said.