Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón in her parents' house in Coyoacán, which at the time was a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Her father was a painter and photographer of German-Jewish background, whose family originated from Oradea, Romania.
Following a crippling traffic accident in 1925, 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 that incorporate 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, divorced, and re-married. An active Communist supporter, she also had an affair with Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated by agents of Stalin in Mexico City in 1940.
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 century.
She most probably committed suicide on July 13, 1954, her ashes placed in a pre-Columbian urn which are on display in her former home La Casa Azul in Coyoacán, which has been turned into a museum containing a number of her works.
A biographical documentary containing archival footage, entitled Frida Kahlo, was released in 1982, in Germany.
In 1984 director Paul Le Duc released the film Frida, naturaleza viva, which stars Ofelia Medina as Frida Kahlo.
In 2002, Miramax released a motion picture titled Frida, starring Salma Hayek in the title role.