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Recognised as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, for the first time ever outside of Mexico, an exhibition of her clothing and personal possessions is on display at the V&A. As enormous Frida Kahlo fans, to say we were excited to visit the Frida Kahlo exhibition is an understatement. Mexican-born, Frida famously painted numerous portraits with her work inspired by nature and artefacts of Mexico.
In her early years, Frida would sit for her father’s photographs, later using the photographs as source material for her own self-portraits, emulating their stillness. We learnt that Frida was fascinated by her complex heritage and was proud of her ethnic identity. In her 20s she embraced traditional Mexican dress, identifying with the culture and clothing of the women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca. Her beloved corsets were like a second skin to her and she would often use her garments as a way of expressing her identity. She would sometimes, in her paintings, use these garments as a stand-in for different versions of herself.
Frida was a fan of votive painting, also known as Retablos. These paintings were produced in their thousands during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Frida utilised the narrative power of the Retablos and its compression of space and time in many of her paintings.
In 1938 Kahlo had her first solo show at Julian Levyms gallery in New York City. In 1939 Frida painted one of her most notable paintings ‘The Two Fridas’ (Las dos Fridas in Spanish). It was painted in the same year that Frida divorced Diego, hinting at the idea she didn’t need her husband anymore and had replaced him with herself. Although, in 1940 they remarried.
In 1951 Doctor Juan Farill performed 7 surgeries on Frida’s spine meaning she had to stay in a hospital in Mexico City for 9 months. In November 1951 she finally recovered and was able to paint again. It was then she decided to paint another of her most notable pieces of work – a self-portrait of her with the Dr who saved her life. After years of poor health, Frida Kahlo died on 13th July 1954 in Mexico City. After her death, her husband Diego shut her belongings in the bathroom of their home, the ‘Blue House’. He demanded the bathroom to be locked until 15 years after his death. In fact, the room was not opened until 2004, when 300 of her items were discovered in good condition. During the room’s closure, it gained the nickname ‘The Locked Wardrobe’.
She has long been admired for her strength, perservance and determination and today remains an object of fascination. She is embraced both for her fierce individuality as well as her defiance in the face of adversity. The exhibition is a beautiful testament to an incredibly inspiring and talented woman. We’d heartily recommend it to any art-lovers.