Frida on the bench, 1939, photograph by Nickolas Muray © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives
This summer, the V&A will explore how Frida Kahlo, one of the most recognised and significant artists and women of the 20th century, fashioned her identity. Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up will be the first exhibition outside of Mexico to display her clothes and intimate possessions, reuniting them with key self-portraits and photographs to offer a fresh perspective on her compelling life story. “We will present an unparalleled insight into Kahlo’s life revealing some objects that have never been on show before,” promises the V&A.
Working in close collaboration with Museo Frida Kahlo, the London museum will display more than 200 objects from her home, the Blue House, including outfits, letters, jewellery, cosmetics, medicines and medical corsets – discovered in 2004, 50 years after being sealed in there by her husband Diego Rivera, the Mexican muralist, following her death in 1954.
Exploring Kahlo’s highly choreographed appearance and style, these include 22 distinctive colourful Tehuana garments; pre-Columbian necklaces that Frida strung herself; examples of intricately hand-painted corsets and prosthetics which will be displayed alongside film and photography of the artist as a visual narrative of her life.
Included in Kahlo’s makeup selection is her eyebrow pencil ‘Ebony’, still within its original packaging, which she used to emphasise her signature monobrow, a defining feature of her self-portraits and her favourite lipstick, Revlon’s ‘Everything’s Rosy’ and red nail varnish. Her vividly-coloured cosmetics are striking in the celebrated portraits by photographer Nickolas Muray which show her wearing many of the clothes on display.
Claire Wilcox, Senior Curator of Fashion at the V&A and exhibition co-curator, said: “A countercultural and feminist symbol, this show will offer a powerful insight into how Frida Kahlo constructed her own identity. This show is a rare opportunity for visitors, offering unique access to an archive that has never left Mexico before.”
Kahlo empowered herself through her art and dress after suffering a devastating near-fatal bus crash at the age of 18, which rendered her bed-bound and immobilised for protracted periods of time. Self-portraiture became the primary focus of her art at this point and she began to paint using a mirror inset into the canopy of her four-poster bed. Much more was understood about Kahlo’s accident after the discovery of the objects in the Blue House. The exhibition will illuminate this story through items such as her medicines and orthopaedic aids.
Cotton huipil with machine-embroidered chain stitch; printed cotton skirt with embroidery and holán . Ensemble from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera 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 Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums
Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939, photograph by Nickolas Muray © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives
Prosthetic leg with leather boot. Appliquéd silk with embroidered Chinese motifs. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums
Revlon compact and powderpuff with blusher in ‘Clear Red’ and Revlon lipstick in ‘Everything’s Rosy’; emery boards and eyebrow pencil in ‘Ebony’. Before 1954. Photograph Javier Hinojosa. © Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums