Born in 1907, Frida Kahlo became one of the most recognized and significant artists and women of the 20th century. In 1954, following her death, Frida Kahlo’s possessions were locked away in the Casa Azul in Mexico City, her lifelong home. Half a century later, her collection of clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, and other personal items was rediscovered.
Opening this past June, the V&A Museum’s exhibition in London, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, has been the first exhibition outside of Mexico to display her clothes and intimate possessions, reuniting them with key self-portraits and photographs to offer a fresh perspective on the artist’s compelling life story. Now attended by almost 200K people to date, and due to unprecedented demand, the exhibition has been extended until Sunday, November 18th.
Working in close collaboration with Museo Frida Kahlo, the exhibition reimagines Kahlo’s home, the Blue House, located in Coyoacán, on the outskirts of Mexico City, where she was born, lived and died. The exhibition displays more than 200 objects from the Blue House. Kahlo’s personal items including outfits, letters, jewelry, 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. Exploring Kahlo’s highly choreographed appearance and style, these include 22 distinctive, colorful Tehuana garments; pre-Columbian necklaces that Frida strung herself; examples of intricately hand-painted corsets and prosthetics which have been displayed alongside film and photography of the artist as a visual narrative of her life.
Included in Kahlo’s makeup selection is her eyebrow pencil ‘Ebony,’ still within its original packaging, which she used to emphasize her signature monobrow, a defining feature of her self-portraits. On display is also her favorite lipstick, Revlon’s ‘Everything’s Rosy’ and red nail varnish. Her vividly-colored cosmetics are striking in the celebrated portraits by photographer Nickolas Muray which show her wearing many of the clothes on display.
Claire Wilcox, Senior Curator of Fashion at the V&A and exhibition co-curator, tells us about the exhibition: “A countercultural and feminist symbol, this show offers a powerful insight into how Frida Kahlo constructed her own identity. This show is a rare opportunity for visitors, offering unique access to an archive that has never left Mexico before.”
Mexico flourished in the 1920s and 1930s as a liberal destination that attracted foreign artists, writers, photographers and documentary filmmakers, in what became known as the Mexican Renaissance. An enthusiastic desire to embrace a national identity led Khalo’s interest in the art and traditions of indigenous people of the country. Kahlo used her striking appearance as a political statement, crafting her identity to reflect her own mestizo (mixed- race) identity and allegiance to Mexican identity.
Kahlo empowered herself through her art and dress after suffering a devastating near-fatal bus crash at the age of 18, which rendered her bed-bound and immobilized for protracted periods of time. 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. Much more was understood about Kahlo’s accident after the discovery of the objects in the Blue House.
A host of activities and events to mark the final weeks of the show will begin with a celebration of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) on Friday 2 November. The festival at the V&A will also coincide with a special 48-hour opening of the exhibition, allowing visitors to view the show from 10 am on Friday, November 2nd through to 10 pm on Sunday, November 4th. Guests are invited to take fashion inspiration from Frida Kahlo and learn more about the fascinating traditions of Mexico’s Day of the Dead as they dance to the contemporary and classical sounds of Mexico and Latin America. – GM