Mexican women have long excelled in the art world both at home and abroad. But there is one name that always seems to come up when someone says the words “female Mexican artist.” That’s right, Frida Kahlo.
There is no denying that the legacy of Frida Kahlo is an inescapable force in Mexican art and culture. But as everything which can be said about Frida, likely already has. Today we turn our attention to 10 other female Mexican artists who have greatly impacted the arts in their respective fields.
This list is in no particular order and is by no means definitive, but we hope it whets your appetite to explore further.
Aurora Reyes Flores (1908 – 1985)
Raised in a military family during the Mexican revolution, Aurora Reyes Flores became a respected painter and writer and was the first female muralist in Mexico. She had her first exhibition at the Mexican ARS Gallery in 1925 and contributed works to collective exhibitions in France, Cuba and the United States.
Reyes was known as “Magnolia Iracunda” (Fiery Magnolia) for her outspoken views. In 1960, she participated with other intellectuals and artists in a hunger strike on behalf of political prisoners in Mexico. In 1968 she participated in the student uprising at Tlatelolco, which then forced her into hiding at La Castañeda psychiatric hospital for a time.
Her most famous mural is “Attack on Rural Schoolteachers” at the Centro Escolar Revolución. She also painted “Woman of War,” which depicts a woman thrown into war over the death of her child. Her works as a writer include “Nueve estancias en el desierto,” “Humanos paisajes” and “Espiral en retorno.”
Flor Amargo (b. 1988)
Emma Mayte Carballo Hernández, better known as Flor Amargo, was born in Asunción Nochixtlán, Oaxaca. She is a singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist, known for her musical prowess and eccentricity.
She began her career at the age of 12 as a composer and studied in Mexico’s national conservatory. Flor Amargo is known for playing large venues and festivals such as Vive Latino but still loves playing on the streets of Mexican cities and towns. She describes most of her music as “Katartic pop,” a genre combining pop, folk, Mexican cumbia and classical piano.
She became famous when passerby began uploading videos of her to social media. She has also participated in the Mexican TV talent show “La Voz.” Her music can be streamed on Spotify. If you understand Spanish, we recommend you check her interview on the Alex Fernández Podcast.
María Félix (1914-1978)
María Félix was a Mexican film actress and singer born in Sonora. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, she was arguably the most famous actress in the country and was known for her strong personality. She was also known as La Doña, after her character in the film Doña Barbara.
María Félix was also active in European cinema and debuted with the Spanish film “Mare Nostrum,” directed by Rafael Gil. In France, she made films such as “La Belle Otero” and “Les Héros sont Fatigúes.” However, her most important French film was “French Cancan,” directed by Jean Renoir.
According to a story often cited in Mexican media, when walking down the streets of Mexico City, Maria Felix was approached by filmmaker Fernando Palacios who asked her if she wanted to be in movies. To this, she responded, “When I want to, it will be through the big door.”
Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942)
Graciela Iturbide is a Mexican photographer best known for her black-and-white portraits, which critics often say come to life. Iturbide eschews labels and calls herself complicit with her subjects. Her work often features Mexico’s indigenous cultures such as the Zapotec and Mixtec.
She is also well known for photographs in which she documents life on the Mexico-US border from the perspective of the roles of migrants, women, identity and everyday life. In her work, one can see what she calls “a juxtaposition of urban vs rural life, as well as modern vs indigenous life.”
Some of her earliest works involved photographing the dead and their families at cemeteries. Art critic Oscar Nates notes that death in Iturbide’s work is not gloomy, but rather poetic.
Elisa Carillo Cabrera (b. 1981)
Born in Texcoco, State of Mexico, in 2011 Elisa Carillo Cabrera became the first Mexican prima ballerina to perform with the Berlin State Ballet.
After attending Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Arts, she moved to the United Kingdom and enrolled in the English National Ballet School until 1999. After completing her training at the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, she was designated a Master of Ballet by the German ministry of culture.
in 2019 she became the first Mexican woman to be awarded the Prix Benois de la Danse. She founded the Elisa Carrillo Cabrera Foundation in hopes to help Mexican dancers gain opportunities abroad. She also hosts an annual gala called Elisa y Amigos.
Remedios Varo (1908 – 1963)
Born in Spain, Remedios Varo was a Spanish/Mexican surrealist artist heavily influenced by renaissance art and the allegorical nature of the work of Hieronymus Bosch. For Varo, surrealism was “a way of communicating the incommunicable.”
One of her most famous collections came after she was approached by the pharmaceutical company Bayer, to illustrate some common illnesses. The paintings which resulted are simply astounding.
Although her intention was not necessary to address problems of gender equality, through her example, Varo did more than her part to challenge assumptions about women in art.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648 – 1695)
Juana Inés de la Cruz was a Mexican writer, poet and philosopher of the Baroque period, as well as a nun. In the 20th century, she became a symbol for women’s liberation across Latin America and was known by the monikers “the tenth muse” and “the phoenix of Mexico.”
One of her most famous works, “Primero sueño,” is a long philosophical poem that deals “with the shadow of night beneath which a person falls asleep in the midst of quietness and silence.” Her comedies such as “Pawns of a house” and “Love is but a labyrinth” are said by contemporary critics to describe Juana’s repugnance to the sexism of her age.
Aside from poetry and philosophy, she was interested in the natural sciences and mathematics. She devoted a significant portion of her time to the study of music theory. She even wrote a treaty, which is sadly lost, in which she outlined ways to simplify musical notation and solve problems associated with tuning.
Sor Juana — as she is known locally — is one of the most famous women in the history of the country and has long been featured on Mexico’s banknotes.
Daniela Liebman (b. 2002)
Born to a family of musicians, Daniela Liebman began to play the piano at the age of 5 and made her debut as a soloist at only eight with her rendition of Mozart’s concerto for piano Number 8. Since that time she has played with over 20 orchestras on four continents.
In 2013 she made her debut at the prestigious Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. In 2016 she was named one of Mexico’s top 50 artists by Forbes Magazine.
Liebman considers it an honor to represent her country abroad and sees her roles as both a mission and opportunity to break boundaries.
“Music is extremely personal; it can be understood differently by anyone. When you play for an audience you can really feel their energy, and it is something which can really improve your performance,” Liebman told the Chicago tribune.
Her music can be streamed on Spotify.
Chavela Vargas (1919 – 2012)
Born in Costa Rica, Chavela Vargas is a famous Mexican singer who once famously stated in an interview, “We Mexicans are born whereever the @#!& we like!”
She is considered one of the greatest representatives of Mexican ranchera music and was awarded a Grammy in 2007 by the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Vargas has been a feature in films such as “La Soldadera” (1967) and “Frida” (2002) in which she delivered a powerful rendition of the Mexican folk song “La Llorona.”
She died in Cuernavaca, Mexico. According to her official Facebook page, her last words were “I leave with Mexico in my heart.”
Ofelia Medina (b. 1950)
We wrap up our list with Yucatecan actress Ofelia Medina. When Ofelia was 8, she moved with her family to Mexico City where she attended the Mexican Dance Academy. In 1977, she studied acting in Los Angeles with Lee Strasberg and then moved on to Europe to continue polishing her skills at the Danish Odin Theater.
She made her movie debut with the 1968 film “Pax” and landed her first major television role in the series “Landrú.” In 1983, she interpreted Frida Khalo in the film “Frida, Naturaleza Viva.”
Aside from her work in TV and film, Medina is also a well-known social activist. In 1985, she co-founded Mexico’s first human rights organization dedicated to indigenous people. She has also worked closely with several organizations concerned with food security in rural Chiapas.
It would be impossible to fit all of Mexico’s fantastic female artists into a list of a thousand, let alone 10! Let us know who is your favorite. Did she make our list?