The city of London is abuzz this season with talk of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Frida Kahlo show.
‘Frida was ahead of her time. Frida Kahlo is the very model of the bohemian artist: unique, rebellious and contradictory, a cult figure that has been appropriated by feminists, artists, fashion designers and popular culture’—Circe Henestrosa, Head of the School of Fashion, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore and exhibition co-curator
The exhibition involves a phenomenal collection of the iconic artist’s garments and personal artefacts. This is the first time this assemblage has been seen outside of Mexico, having been locked away in her famous ‘Blue House’ in Mexico City for 50 years—where she lived and died.
Kahlo was born in 1907 and died at the young age of 47. Her memorable appearance, fearless political ideals and poignant paintings have marked her out as a key influencer of the 20th century. Today, she still remains one of the most influential artists to be born out of Mexico—or in fact, anywhere in the world. Now audiences can experience her work and life from an entirely new perspective.
Over 200 items will be put on display including corsets, makeup, shoes, dresses, coats, jewellery, accessories and much more. The exhibition is also punctuated with personal photographic collections and immersive audiovisual effects. Parts of the Blue House have been recreated inside the V&A to provide visitors with a visceral experience like no other. The space has been curated by Gibson Thornley Architects and theatre designer Tom Scutt. Collectively, they made the decision to reimagine Kahlo’s bed, the temple in her room and the fabric from one of her dresses.
Matt Thornley, co-director of Gibson Thornley, said the aim was not to duplicate parts of the house but instead to create subtle references to both its architecture and it contents. ‘We were keen to avoid creating a pastiche of Mexican culture.
‘We wanted to do something that was inherently modern and inherently linked to her [Kahlo],’ he said.
It’s no secret that Kahlo led a troubled life. When she was six years old she contracted polio, which left her leg severely deformed. Then, later in her teens, she suffered a nearly fatal accident and consequently had part of her leg amputated due to gangrene. As such, Kahlo spent much of her life in a sick bed. Once she became mobile again, she was subjected to a number of corrective operations and lived much of her life in pain. It was this torment and agony that she drew upon to create her stirring visual art pieces. The V&A’s show presents a number of items that are related to Kahlo’s medical conditions: from pill bottles to a customised prosthetic leg with a red lace-up boot.
Senior curator of fashion at the V&A, Claire Wilcox said that being able to exhibit the items in London was ‘a huge privilege’. She continued: ‘This is real material evidence of the way Kahlo constructed her identity.’
The retrospective gives an insight into the expressive power of fashion by taking a deeper look into traditional Mexican dress and embroidery. Tehuana garments are central to the exhibition’s plot—the traditional clothing style of women from the Tehuana region in Mexico. Kahlo was an advocate for this form of fashion; for her, this choice of style was an act of defiance and cultural pride.
It is clear that much of Kahlo’s life was a performance: a shield for her anguish. The title of Kahlo’s show ‘Making Her Self Up’ reflects this notion. The V&A’s detailed display sheds light on the woman behind the canvas—a person of deep emotion and immeasurable strength.
Frida Kahlo’s new show at the V&A entitled Kahlo: Making Her Self Up will be on display until 4 November 2018.