Frida Kahlo is an iconic Mexican artist; her life synonymous with bold colours, passion, pain and resilience in the face of adversity. Kahlo was not only known as an artist but as a cult figure in her own right and is regarded by many as a female idol and political symbol. Her paintings and self-portraits often served as a narration of her own life: documenting her pain and personal views on sexuality.
An exhibition at London’s V&A showcases an intimate selection of Kahlo’s clothing and personal items that were locked away in La Casa Azul (The Blue House) following her death, many of which have not been shown outside of Mexico. Upon seeing the exhibition, it is easy to see how she could fascinate and enthuse those around her through her unique style and personality. Alongside these items are both informal pictures and photographs taken by acclaimed photographers.
All the photos on show captured her unique style and gave a glimpse into her life. What was particularly striking were her pictures not taken in a professional setting. She liked to challenge the societal norms of what was deemed attractive and this was epitomised by her iconic image. In the photos that were not staged or directed, her identity was still captured resonating with the observer making you wanting to learn more about her. Even those taken professionally still felt personal – Frida tended to surround herself with items she enjoyed whether it was her dogs, her house or favourite pieces of clothing, making every photo appear more intimate.
Evidently Kahlo is known for her self-portraits, paintings and fashion statements but a big part of the exhibition were the more intimate belongings of Kahlo highlighting her health problems and suffering. For example, items such as her plaster corsets (worn due to the complications from polio) and a prosthetic leg with a custom made leather boot (from when her leg was amputated) were on display. Usually, plaster corsets are moulded onto the body and worn for short periods. When it was time to be fitted to a new one the person would be cut out of the corset and have the old one discarded. But Kahlo was different. She personalised them by painting them and covering them with pasted scraps whilst being worn and when she was cut free she kept them. Her plastered corsets would often reflect autobiographical elements, much like her paintings. One shown in the exhibition depicts a more extreme case of personalisation where a hole is cut out from the abdominal area, which most associated with her miscarriage.
This exhibition is highly recommended whether you are a Frida Kahlo enthusiast or just have a passive interest. The exhibition entitle Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up runs until Sunday, 4 November 2018.
CG and Deana
My Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo has had photographs taken by acclaimed photographers including Lola Álvarez Bravo, Nickolas Muray, Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Héctor García and Gisèle Freund.
I am the fortunate owner of one of the most famous photographic portraits of her. It was taken by Nickolas Muray while she was visiting New York City and is called simply “Frida Kahlo, 1939” and is sometimes referred to as “Frida with Magenta Rebozo”. The version I own was printed by the Art and Soul Studio using the colour carbon process. Despite being a labour-intensive and difficult technique, the results give a high quality image with a distinctive surface and texture. This method is perfect for capturing the vibrancy of Kahlo’s appearance from Muray’s original negatives.
The framed photo of Frida hangs proudly in my hallway making it one of the first things my friends and family see upon entering my house. Kahlo looks serene in the portrait, which contrast to some of her more serious looks in her own paintings. She has a slight smile and to me, looks endearing and relaxed. From the bare background Muray has made it clear that the sole focus is on Frida. What I love is that the eccentricity of her style doesn’t go unnoticed because of the bold magenta ‘rebozo’ despite seeming to be dressed in one of her more reserved looks.