Perhaps no artist in modern history, save Andy Warhol, has been so well documented, and self-documented, as Frida Kahlo, or has used documentary methods, surrealist and otherwise, to so unflinchingly confront ideas about disability, gender, sexuality, national identity, and relationships. These qualities make her the perfect celebrity artist for our times, but unlike the average 21st century star making art out of self-presentation, Kahlo’s voice has never been heard, though she lived in a time almost as saturated with mass media—of the radio, TV, and film variety—as our own.
That is, perhaps, until now, with the unearthing of what the National Sound Library of Mexico believes to be a recording of her voice, “taken from a pilot episode of 1955 radio show El Bachiller [“The Bachelor”],” writes Steph Harmon at The Guardian. The show “aired after her death in 1954,” likely the following year. Though the program does not introduce her by name, the presenter does refer to her as recently deceased, and she does read an essay about her husband Diego Rivera, which happens to be written by Frida Kahlo. The case seems fairly conclusive.
Previously the little evidence of what she sounded like came from written descriptions, such as French photographer Gisèle Freund’s characterization of her voice as “melodious and warm.” Hear for yourself what is very likely the recorded voice of Frida Kahlo in the audio above. In her typically florid yet unsparing style she paints a verbal portrait of Rivera full of unflattering physical detail and layers of emotion and admiration. In one English translation, she calls him “a huge, immense child, with a friendly face and a sad gaze.
Rivera’s “high, dark, extremely intelligent and big eyes rarely hold still. They almost pop out of their sockets because of their swollen and protuberant eyelids—like a toad’s.” His huge eyes seem “built especially for a painter of spaces and crowds.” The Mexican muralist, she says is like “an inscrutable monster.” These are the words of a writer, we must remember, who was passionately in love with her subject, but who did not pretend to ignore his physical oddities. As she had practiced loving herself, she loved and admired Rivera because of his unique appearance, not in spite of it.
Researchers are making continuing efforts to verify that the voice on the recoding is Kahlo and searching through about 1,300 other episodes of the show, recorded for Televisa Radio, to find out if there are any more recordings of her. Given Frida’s flamboyant persona and minor art stardom in her lifetime, it’s hard to imagine we won’t hear more of her, if this is in fact her, as other archives reveal their secrets.
Josh Jones is a writer and musician