More than 200 personal items of the iconic late artist and activist Frida Kahlo, which were locked away until 2004, will travel for the first time outside her native Mexico, for an exhibition opening this month at the V&A Museum London
This summer, the V&A Museum in London will explore how iconic artist and activist Frida Kahlo fashioned her identity. Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up will be the first exhibition outside of her native Mexico to display clothes and intimate possessions, reuniting them with key self-portraits and photographs to offer a fresh perspective on her compelling life story.
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born on 6th July 1907 in Coyoacán, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Her dad Guillermo was a photographer and artist who had been brought up in Germany, her mother a devout Catholic of mixed Indian and European heritage. They lived, with all of Frida’s sisters, in La Casa Azul (The Blue House).
Frida’s father, perhaps because he didn’t have a son, chose her to follow in his artistic footsteps. He encouraged her to appreciate painting and to copy the works of other artists. Frida was spoiled, indulged and impressionable and, when she was 15 her father enrolled her in school. This is where she first encountered Diego Rivera, later to become her husband, who had been commissioned to paint a mural at the school.
Crippled by polio as a child and then a few years later aged only 18, almost fatally wounded in a bus crash, Frida became, for many months, a bed-bound invalid encased in a full body cast. Self-portraiture became the primary focus of her art at this point and she began to paint using a mirror inset into the canopy of her four-poster bed. “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best.”
A place in history
Today Frida is recognised as one of the most significant artists and women of the 20th century. Working in close collaboration with the Museo Frida Kahlo, more than 200 objects from The Blue House will be on display at the V&A Museum, including personal items such as outfits, letters, jewellery, cosmetics, medicines and medical corsets. These were discovered in 2004, 50 years after being sealed in The Blue House by her husband Diego Rivera, following her death in 1954 aged 47.
The exhibition explores Frida’s highly choreographed appearance and style, these include 22 distinctive colourful Tehuana garments; pre-Columbian necklaces that Frida strung herself; examples of intricately hand painted corsets and prosthetics which will be displayed alongside film and photography of the artist as a visual narrative of her life. Included in Kahlo’s make-up selection is her eyebrow pencil ‘Ebony,’ still within its original packaging, which she used to emphasise her signature mono brow, a defining feature of her self-portraits, and her favourite lipstick, Revlon’s ‘Everything’s Rosy’ as well as her red nail varnish. Her vividly coloured cosmetics are striking in the celebrated portraits by photographer Nickolas Muray, which show her wearing many of the clothes on display.
Frida empowered herself through her art and dress and much more was understood about her accident after the discovery of the objects in The Blue House. The exhibition illuminates this story through items such as her medicines and orthopaedic aids. In 1953, she had her leg amputated and her prosthetic leg will also be leaving Mexico for the first time. Frida clad the leg in a bright red leather boot and had it embroidered and tied bells on to it.
• Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up runs from 16th June-4th November 2018. Admission price £15. Advance booking is advised either in person at the V&A, online at www.vam.ac.uk/FridaKahlo or by calling 020 7942 2000 (booking fee applies).
Image top: © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives
Image right: © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums.