"I have enjoyed being contradictory"
Opening on Sunday, the V&A Museum's latest exhibition in London is a beautifully constructed show exploring the personal and private image of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939. Photograph Nickolas Muray. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives
Highly stylised and immediately recognisable, Kahlo's iconic appearance was not just a statement about her artwork and political views in post-revolutionary Mexico, but an expression of her own identity, carefully constructed through her clothes and makeup to reflect her cultural, political and feminist values.
Cotton huipil with machine-embroidered chain stitch; printed cotton skirt with embroidery and holán (ruffle) © Museo Frida Kahlo
Breaking away from European and American beauty ideals through her reclamation of Mexican culture in a post-revolutionary country, Kahlo's use of traditional costume and carefully staged glamour reflected her own mixed-race (mestizo) identity, as well as the alignment of her self with the new Mexicayotl movement.
Revlon compact and powderpuff with blusher in ‘Clear Red’ and Revlon lipstick in ‘Everything’s Rosy’; emery boards and eyebrow pencil in ‘Ebony’. Before 1954. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo
In this beautiful exhibition of two halves, Frida at her most beautiful and glamorous contrasts strikingly with personal and poignant pieces never before seen outside of Mexico. Locked away for fifty years after Kahlo's death in 1954, this exhibition puts on display some of Frida's most personal belongings alongside the artwork their inspired. Not just clothes and letters, but intricately hand-painted medical corsets, cosmetics, personal photographs and even her prosthetic leg.
Frida Kahlo in blue satin blouse, 1939. Photograph Nickolas Muray © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives
Some of the most poignant pieces in this collection are also those which show Kahlo at her most vulnerable. A collection of plaster corsets and spine braces used to relieve the pain in Kahlo's back have been intricately hand painted by the artist as she wore them using a hand mirror. As well as flowers and fauna, Kahlo depicted communist symbols on the chest of several of these, and one in particular (dating from shortly after a miscarriage) depicts a drawing of a foetus over Kahlo's belly.
Plaster Corset, around 1950, Mexico. From the collection of Jan Hendrickx. Photography by Richard Thomas.
Prosthetic leg with leather boot. Appliquéd silk with embroidered Chinese motifs. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives
Trio of photographs of Frida Kahlo pinning up her hair, photographed by Julien Levy, 1938. Photograph by Richard Thomas
Kahlo's outfits displayed in the central room of the exhibition. Photograph by Richard Thomas
Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up
16 June – 14 November 2018
The V&A Museum, London
The V&A Museum have also published a book to accompany the exhibition:
Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up
Copyright for the works of Frida Kahlo: © 2018 Banco de Mexico, Fiduciary Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums, Av. 5 de Mayo, No. 2, Col Centro, Del. Cuauhtemoc
With thanks to sponsors Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, Aeromexico, Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne and GRoW@Annenberg
Sponsored by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland