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Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

Like most people, when I first heard the V&A's announcement about their upcoming Frida Kahlo exhibitions, I was so excited I wrote the date in my diary there and then. 

This exhibition presents an extraordinary collection of personal artefacts and clothing belonging to the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. These items were locked away for 50 years after her death in 1954, with the collection having never before been exhibited outside of Mexico.

A major highlight for me was seeing the vibrant 1939 portraits of Frida taken by her lover, photographer Nickolas Muray. What i love about these images is how contemporary they seem. With Frida's favour of traditional Mexican clothing, the decade can be hard to read. They are iconic images that capture her beauty and strong personal identity. 

 Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

The exhibition revealed a great deal about Frida's personal interests, such as her collection of mayan artefacts, these included burial beads that she would hand craft into jewellery. It also portrays Frida as a very particular dresser, even when staying at home, she would adorn herself in her skirts and huipil, jewellery, style her hair and paint her nails. It is thought that this adornment acted as a kind of armour for Frida, masking her injured and fragile body underneath and portraying her version of herself. 

I was surprised when looking at the mannequins, just how small She was. In the iconic images we see of Frida on anything from posters to handbags she is a larger than life figure. Her bold look makes her seem like a giantess. When in reality, she was petite, her body fragile. This goes to show just how much a personality and actions can influenec the way you perceive someone. 

 Cotton huipil with machine-embroidered chain stitch; printed cotton skirt with embroidery and holán (ruffle). Museo Frida Kahlo. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Cotton huipil with machine-embroidered chain stitch; printed cotton skirt with embroidery and holán (ruffle). Museo Frida Kahlo. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

 Guatemalan cotton coat worn with Mazatec huipil and plain floor-length skirt. Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Guatemalan cotton coat worn with Mazatec huipil and plain floor-length skirt. Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

 Selection of cosmetics owned by Frida Kahlo. Before 1954. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Selection of cosmetics owned by Frida Kahlo. Before 1954. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Also on display, is an extensive collection of Her corsets and back braces, worn to support her spine which was damaged in a bus accident in Her teens. Even these medical accessories have been customised and decorated, becoming a sort of page from her diary, reflecting her emotions and even political beliefs at that moment in time. 

 Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

 Prosthetic leg with leather boot. Museo Frida Kahlo. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Prosthetic leg with leather boot. Museo Frida Kahlo. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Something I didn't know before visiting the exhibition, was that Frida's photographer father, Guillermo Kahlo, also created an extensive collection of self portraits. I liked the link her between father and his favourite daughter, and to think that he had inspired this is Frida. 

 Frida Kahlo, c. 1926. Image courtesy of Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Frida Kahlo, c. 1926. Image courtesy of Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

I urge everyone to try to see this exhibition, the curation and interpretation of the artefacts offers a hugely poignant look at Frida Kahlo as daughter, lover, artist, political activist and of course, style icon. 

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up is on until Sunday 4th November 2018 at the V&A.

www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/frida-kahlo-making-her-self-up

Written by Jasmine Farram

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