Visiting London is always a great idea, but this time, the reason for our weekend trip was even more exciting. Our main objective was to visit the “Making Her Self Up” exhibition about Frida Kahlo, which was being held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. As someone who studied art and art history, I love to combine my passion for art with my love for travel, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

In 2004, a momentous discovery was made at Frida Kahlo’s lifelong home, the Casa Azul. Thousands of her personal belongings, which had been hidden away for decades, were finally rediscovered. These fragile artifacts were transported outside of Mexico for the first time in history and exhibited at the V&A, alongside some of her precious paintings. The “Making Her Self Up” exhibition provided a unique insight into the life of Frida Kahlo, showcasing her journey through photography, costumes, and paintings. It was a powerful and moving experience to see these intimate objects and artworks up close.

As soon as we entered the exhibition, we were greeted by a powerful image of Frida Kahlo’s reflection in the mirror above her bed. It was an unusual choice to display at the entrance, but it was a clever way to contextualize the importance of the mirrored bed in her life. Frida suffered from a life-long battle with physical pain and spent countless days confined to her bed. Her health issues began at the age of six when she contracted polio. At eighteen, she was badly injured in a bus accident, which led to over thirty operations between the ages of six and forty-six. In the year before her death, her right leg was amputated. All of this information gave us a deeper understanding of the role that her bed played in her life and how it became a central theme in her art.

In the first two rooms of the exhibition, Frida’s early life was showcased through a collection of family photographs, sketches, newspaper cuttings, and some of her early paintings. Despite the crowded nature of the rooms and their relatively small size compared to the rest of the exhibition, I was able to squeeze in and see the photos and captions thanks to my persistence.

Mostly featuring self-portraits, the exhibition displayed a considerable amount of Frida’s paintings, which was unexpected given that it was advertised to focus on her personal belongings. She paid close attention to her own face and about a third of her paintings depict herself in various situations, ranging from her birth to her anticipated death. In some portraits, she stands alone with her eyes fixed on the viewer, while in others she is accompanied by her pets or depicted in harrowing scenes, such as lying on a hospital bed after a miscarriage or in the process of being born. Among all her features, it was her eyebrows that became her distinctive trademark, which Diego Rivera, her husband, compared to bird wings. Frida’s cosmetic ritual has been documented to include the use of Talika, a French product that encouraged the growth of eyebrows and eyelashes.

One room, evoked a strong emotional response as it showcased Frida’s physical suffering. The room was comprised of six display boxes meticulously arranged in six replicas of Frida’s bed. These boxes contained her various corsets, braces, and prosthetic leg with a leather boot. In addition, her makeup and medicine were on display alongside some of her sketches. This poignant exhibition left a lasting impression on me.

The other exhibition rooms showcased Frida’s wardrobe, which included her jewellery and costumes. Her jewellery was a significant part of her appearance, particularly on her face and hands. It presented a strong and powerful image that went beyond her physical weakness. Some of the jewellery was handmade by Frida herself, and some of her paintings depicted her wearing the grey-green stone beads, which likely came from Maya sites in southeastern Mexico. The beads, whether naturally shaped or carved with primitive tools, had an ancient beauty that appealed to Frida, who wore them in large quantities despite their weight. The jewellery was displayed alongside paintings that depicted Frida wearing them, making for an interesting juxtaposition.

In the last room, which was the climax of the exhibition and my personal favourite, there was a large glass box in the middle of a spacious room that contained approximately eighteen busts, all dressed up like Frida in her various costumes. It was truly impressive! Frida had a great interest in combining indigenous garments from different regions of Mexico, and she had dozens of variations of huipils (loose, square-cut, sleeveless shirts) and skirts from all parts of Mexico. Her distinctive style of dress continues to inspire designers worldwide.

Frida Kahlo’s legacy will always be tied to her self-portraits, her emotional intensity, and her bold use of colors. The exhibition was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, providing insight into Frida’s life through her personal belongings. It was a pleasure to view from beginning to end. Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up is currently showing at the V&A from June 16 to November 4, 2018.

%d bloggers like this: