The V&A presents an exhibition that explores the life and times of Frida Kahlo, the exhibition entitled Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up is the first exhibition outside of Mexico to display her clothes and intimate possessions, reuniting them with key self-portraits and photographs to offer a comprehensive perspective on her life story.
The V&A, working in close collaboration with Museo Frida Kahlo displays more than 200 objects from the Blue House where Kahlo lived for most of her life. Kahlo’s personal items including outfits, letters, jewellery, cosmetics, medicines and medical corsets were discovered in 2004, 50 years after being sealed in the Blue House by her husband Diego Rivera, the Mexican muralist, following her death in 1954.
The beginning of the exhibition is centred around Kahlo’s early life at the Blue House, located in Coyoacán, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Kahlo’s father Guillermo Kahlo was a photographer and a number of his photographs are included in the exhibition. The section also includes early paintings and photographs of Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera and with some of their influential circle of friends including Communist leader Leon Trotsky who features in a rare film with the couple.
Kahlo suffered from a series of illnesses and injuries throughout her life starting from contracting polio when she was a young child to a near-fatal bus crash at the age of 18, which led her to being bed-bound and immobilised for protracted periods of time. It was at this time that she began to create a series of self portraits that often addressed her physical and mental condition at the time.
The exhibition features a number of medical and orthopaedic items that was discovered when the Blue House objects were found in 2004. Kahlo possessed many supportive bodices and spine back braces which sometimes were covered with religious and communist symbolism. Paintings from this time often included tragic imagery relating to her miscarriages.
Following the Mexican Revolution, Kahlo began to show her cultural and national pride by using the art and traditions of indigenous people of the country in her work. On one of the walls, there is number of ex votos, from Kahlo and Rivera’s collection. These small votive paintings of popular art, made mainly in tin, offered to a saint or to a divinity in gratitude for the fulfillment of a miracle.
Other people began to explore some of the attractions of Mexico in the 1920s, foreign artists, writers, photographers and documentary film makers began to document Mexico and often gravitated to Kahlo and Rivera who were making a name for themselves inside and outside of Mexico. The exhibition features a number of photographs from this period by Edward Weston, Tina Modotti and Nickolas Muray.
Kahlo and Rivera separated in 1935 and Kahlo’s work began to be noticed by American galleries leading to a 1938 solo exhibition in New York. Kahlo had an exhibition in Paris in 1939 organised by surrealists Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp, one of the paintings entitled The Frame was bought the Louvre which was their first acquisition by a 20th century Mexican artist.
The final room in the exhibition is devoted to the many garments from Kahlo’s collection including rebozos, a traditional Mexican shawl, huipiles, an embroidered square-cut top, enaguas and holanes, long skirts with flounces, and jewellery ranging from pre-Columbian jade beads to modern silverwork. One of the highlights is a resplandor, a lace headdress worn by the women of the matriarchal society from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region in Southern Mexico, paired with a self-portrait of Kahlo wearing it.
This intriguing and unusual exhibition illustrates many aspects of the complex life of Frida Kahlo. Her long-standing health problems influenced much of her early art which often included a retreat in mythical imagery to show some of the pain she was enduring. However there was another side to Kahlo’s personality in which she became something of a ‘celebrity’ and enjoyed life to the full and led her to create an identity that seems to resonate with many people.
In the past 20 or more years, Frida Kahlo has become an ‘icon’ for many groups. A visit to this exhibition will provide some evidence why she is considered something of a countercultural and feminist symbol.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information , visit the V & A website here
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