Its always a good idea to go to London, but this time around the idea was better. The main reason for the weekend trip was to visit the Exhibition about Frida Kahlo titled Making Her Self Up at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Having studied my majors in art and art history, by far one of my favourite things to do is to combine art and travelling together.
In 2004, one of the most significant discoveries in recent art history took place at the Casal Azul, Frida’s lifelong home. Thousands of her personal possessions were rediscovered. For the first time in history, these fragile artefacts left Mexico to be exhibited in the V&A accompanied with some of her precious paintings.The exhibition showcased the passage of Frida’s short life by means of photography, costume and paintings.
At the entrance of the exhibition, there was a frontal display with an image of Frida’s reflection in the mirror above her bed. An unusual image to present right at the beginning, however clever enough as it puts you right into context. The mirrored bed was a fundamental part in her life as she had a life of pain and spent countless days in her bed. At the age of six, Frida contracted polio and at the age of eighteen, she was badly injured in a collision between a bus and a trolly car. Frida was operated over thirty times between the age of six and forty-six the year before she died when her right leg was amputated.
Her early life was presented in the first two rooms of the exhibition by showcasing a good number of family photographs, sketches, newspaper cuttings and some early paintings. The place was quite crowded with visitors, and the first two rooms were quite small compared to the other rooms, therefore I had to squeeze in to see the photos and their captions. Thankfully, with some persistence, I managed!
All the rooms showcased Frida’s paintings, mostly self-portraits. Honestly, I did not expect to see such a good number of paintings, since this exhibition was being advertised showing mostly her personal belongings. Frida paid great attention to her face, approximately about a third of her paintings are self-portraits depicting her in every imaginable situation, from her birth to her anticipated death. She often shows herself standing solo, eyes on the onlooker or accompanied by her pets. In other portraits, she shows harrowing scenes; lying on a hospital bed after a miscarriage, on in the act of being born. Of all her features, it was Frida’s eyebrows that became her unique signifier. Diego Riviera (her husband) compared them to bird wings. It has been documented that Kahlo’s cosmetic ritual shows that she used Talika, a French product that encouraged the growth of eyebrows and eyelashes.
One room, in particular, left a sadness in my heart as it beautifully presented Frida’s pain. The room was made up of six display boxes masterfully positioned in six replicas of Frida’s bed. These boxes contained her different corsets, her braces and prosthetic leg with leather boot. There was also her makeup and medicine on display together with some of her sketches.
The other rooms presented Frida’s wardrobe with her jewellery and her costumes. Frida’s jewels were a crucial part of her face and hands. She presented to the world a compelling vision of strength and power which transcended the physical frailty. Frida made some of the jewellery herself and some paintings depicted showing her wearing the grey-green stone beads which most likely came from excavated Maya sites in southeastern Mexico. The beads, whether water-worn pebbles or laboriously shaped using primitive tools, have an ancient beauty and would have appealed both aesthetically and intellectually to Frida who wore them in large quantities, in spite of their weight. These jewellery were on display next to paintings showing the same jewellery. Interesting!
The climax of the exhibition and my favourite part was in the last room. There was this big glass box in the middle of a huge room which had around eighteen busts all looking like Frida dressed up in her costumes. It was Impressive! Frida took great pleasure in combining indigenous garments from different regions of Mexico. She had literally dozens of combinations of huilpils ( a loose, square-cut, sleeveless shirt, often heavily emband skirts, from all parts of Mexico). Her unique dress style continues to inspire designers all over the world.
Frida will always be remembered for her self-portraits, pain, passion and bold vibrant colours. All in all, this exhibition was an experience of a life time were I got to know Frida through her most intimate belongings. A joy from start to finish, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up is on at the V&A from June 16 to November 4 2018.