Frida Kahlo’s story is one of both tragedy and perseverance. Kahlo contracted polio at the age of six. The disease left her right leg disfigured, which she hid by wearing long skirts. She later regained her strength by playing sports. In September 1925, at the age of 18, Kahlo was in a serious bus accident that placed her in a full-body cast for three months. Pain from the ordeal stayed with her for the rest of her life. Following the crash, Kahlo began to paint to alleviate her boredom. Throughout her lifetime, she made numerous self-portraits. Each provides a glimpse into the artist’s world, which was constantly in emotional flux.
In Self-Portrait with Monkey, Kahlo depicted herself standing before lush vegetation wearing a blouse and bone necklace reminiscent of traditional Mexican clothing. Kahlo’s furry companion is her pet spider monkey, Fulang-Chang, whom she adored for his childlike and playful nature. She was haunted by a desire to have children and looked for comfort in her many exotic pets. They roamed the house and garden of her childhood home in Coyoacán, Mexico, where she lived with her husband, artist Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886–1957), from 1929 until her death in 1954.