I have to admit before visiting the V&A’s exhibition, Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, I knew very little about her. I had vague recollections that she had been ill, that she produced self-portraits and of course I recognised her distinctive look. I had no idea of how brave and determined she had been.
As a young child she suffered from polio, which weakened her right leg. As a young adult she was in an accident where the handrail of the bus she was travelling on impaled her. During her recovery she began to paint to pass the time.
“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.”
Throughout her life, her injuries from the accident, which included a broken spinal column, caused her physical and emotional suffering. She had seven operations on her back and lost her right leg to gangrene.
Despite all of this, she was determined to follow her own path. She joined the Mexican Communist Party where she met the man she later married, Diego Riviera, a celebrated Mexican artist.
Diego’s work took them travelling through Mexico and America. During this time, Frida developed her style and became recognised as an artist in her own right. However, it was only after Frida died that she was really recognised as one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century and her work became more popular.
She used her art to express her suffering through symbols and colours and her fashion to hide her physical injuries. She embraced the traditional Tehuana dress and was an independent woman proud to show off her Mexican identity.
After Frida’s death, Riviera locked a collection of her belongings in a bathroom of her home. He demanded the room remain locked until fifteen years after his death. It was opened in 2004 and it is a collection of these items that make up the V&A exhibition.
Whilst Frida’s family history, the photos and her paintings are really interesting, I have to say I was most blown away by her wardrobe: beautiful colours and fabrics, hand embroidery and beading. From a coat that both she and her husband wore, to the plaster casts she decorated that supported her back and the stunning leather platform boot she designed for her prosthetic leg – this exhibition is really well curated and definitely worth a visit.