Frida Kahlo inspires devotion in a way exceptionally few people do. The V&A’s new exhibition of over 200 Frida-related items (many of which were only re-discovered in 2004 when a room sealed by Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, was opened) goes some way to explaining the allure underpinning Frida fandom.
The first thing you’ll notice is the sheer volume of photos on display. There’s Frida with her family, Frida getting married, Frida in bed… endless Fridas, in fact. Enough that it should induce Frida fatigue, only it doesn’t, because there really is something mesmerising about how she stares down the camera lens, demanding attention. Some of the very best are a set of three showing a bare-chested Frida plaiting her long hair. She’s extraordinarily beautiful, a goddess at her dressing table.
The rest of the exhibition is made up of paintings by the artist, belongings from the house she shared with Rivera and, of course, clothes. Roughly speaking, there are two themes to the show. The first is Mexico and its indigenous culture, as shown by the rows of deep-coloured, traditional dresses owned by Kahlo and numerous other items. The second is Kahlo’s medical history – a far less known part of her life story. Surgical braces and back casts are suspended like skeletons in glass cases, her prosthetic leg stands proud, finished off with a gorgeous, embroidered leather boot.
It’s impossible not to experience some degree of sadness looking at these items. Kahlo suffered from devastating health problems, first from childhood polio and then from a horrific bus crash. The displays also feel intensely personal – more so than if the V&A had just hung up her pants.
But it’s also this section that explains the power of Kahlo as an artist and woman. Symbols of femininity – tiered dresses, red lipstick, hair ribbons – become symbols of defiance in the face of suffering. As her internal body failed, her outside appearance remained meticulous, transforming frilly skirts into armour.
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Frida Kahlo is timeless, iconic & unique. This exhibition is a fascinating celebration of a colourful life tinged by chronic pain & ill health which this amazing woman channeled into beautiful art. It gives such a personal insight from her upbringing, tragic accident & tumultuous marriage. Frida shines throughout. There aren’t many paintings (her output was surprisingly small) but they’re all wonderful. The biggest highlight are her personal possessions- especially her wardrobe which championed Mexican dress. Must see for fans old & new & a real coup for London to be the first to exhibit internationally