Just as vivid in real life as in her artwork, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo became a cult figure of the 20th century. Her look and style was immortalised in paintings, photos, fashion and textiles and her unique story of strength and empowerment in the face of tragedy inspired feminists, artists and fashion designers across the globe.
The Victoria & Albert Museum’s major new exhibition, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up (16 June to 4 November 2018) displays more than 200 of the painter's personal objects from La Casa Azul (The Blue House) in Mexico City, where she lived until her death in 1954, and now a museum dedicated to her life and work.
Staged in close collaboration with the Museo Frida Kahlo, the V&A’s exhibition is the first time the artefacts have been seen outside Mexico since they were found locked up in the bathroom of the house in 2004.
Brightly coloured dresses, pre-Columbian necklaces strung by the artist herself, personal letters, corsets, and her signature Revlon lipstick and red nail varnish will be seen alongside the famous portraits by photographer Nickolas Murray showing her wearing many of the clothes on display, and some of the artist's self-portraits.
Through these private objects visitors will gain a fresh perspective on the artist and the image she presented to the world, and ‘a powerful insight into how Frida Kahlo constructed her own identity’ promises exhibition co-curator Claire Wilcox.
Among the intriguing exhibits, Kahlo’s prosthetic leg with bright red leather boot, and her corsets painted with religious and communist symbolism tell the story of how she dealt with the results of a near-fatal bus crash at the age of 18, which left her bed-bound and immobilised for long periods of time.
Using a mirror attached to the canopy of her four-poster bed, the artist turned to self-portraiture during this time. Her portraits express her sense of cultural pride and her interest in indigenous art, costume and traditions; indeed, among the garments on display are her many traditional Mexican shawls, dresses, and lace head dresses.
And as for those corsets with communist symbols? Among Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera’s close circle of friends was communist leader Leon Trotsky, who lived with the couple for a time.
Welcome to the multi-coloured and multi-faceted world of Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up (opens in new tab), 16 June to14 November 2018.
Sponsored by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland at the Victoria and Albert Museum (opens in new tab), London
Get some colourful Kahlo style
To celebrate Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, the V&A shop has a whole range of Kahlo-inspired gifts and accessories (opens in new tab) for sale - everything from a tote bag at £8.50, to a faux Dahlia headdress, priced at £160, created exclusively for the V&A by royal wedding florist Philippa Craddock, essential for a Kahlo-lookielikie.