Frida Kahlo Exhibition - Making Her Self Up
I recently took a trip to the V & A Museum, London to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition 'Making Her Self Up' with my sister, which was a great mid-week treat for us both. It was so popular that you had to pre-book a time slot, so we arrived early as we had to take a chance on finding a disabled parking bay.
The exhibition was incredibly busy, so as a wheelchair user it was slightly challenging negotiating the crowds and trying to get close enough to the images and exhibits, but most people were considerate so it was manageable. I was aware of her paintings and that she was a celebrated disabled Mexican artist, but I didn't know much about Frida Kahlo's life before the exhibition.
She was born in 1907 and died in 1954 at the relatively young age of 47 with a life peppered with health issues. As a young girl, she contracted Polio which left her with a withered leg and a limp. She wore long skirts to hide her leg, she had an individual style and has become a fashion icon with her beautiful, colourful outfits, many of which are preserved and are on display at the V&A. She was considered one of Mexico's greatest artists after she began to paint self-portraits following a long period of bed-rest to recover from a horrific bus accident. The bus collided with a streetcar and Frida Kahlo was seriously injured. A steel handrail impaled her through the hip. Her spine and pelvis are fractured and this accident left her in a great deal of pain, both physically and physiologically. She stayed in hospital for several weeks and then returned home for further recovery, wearing a cast for three months (see image below, the cast was decorated by Frida Kahlo).
To kill the time and alleviate the pain, she started painting and finished her first self-portrait the following year. Frida Kahlo once said, "I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best". Her parents encouraged her to paint and had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed.
Despite her mother's objections, Frida was romantically involved with Mexican Muralist Diego Riviera. They married in 1929 and moved to New York City and then Detroit for Riviera's work, eventually returning to live in San Angel, Mexico. Their marriage was not a normal one, both of them had infidelities with one of Riviera's affairs being with Frida's sister Cristina, and so the pair separated several times but always returned to each other. They both shared the same political views and were supporters of exiled communist Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia, even letting them stay with them at their home, The Blue House.
La Casa Azul or The Blue House in Mexico City was Frida's family home, she grew up there and then returned to live there later in her life with Riviera and it was opened as a historic museum in 1958. It is known as the Blue House for the structure's cobalt-blue walls and it is dedicated to the life and work of Frida Kahlo.
Frida suffered from chronic health problems and expressed her pain and physical challenges through her surrealist art. She tried seeking medical treatment for her pain, but nothing worked. Her health continued to deteriorate and in 1950, she was diagnosed with gangrene in her right foot and was bedridden for nine months and had several surgeries. Frida continued to work and paint and held a solo exhibition in 1953 in which she turned up to in an ambulance and celebrated the opening ceremony in a bed. A few months later, she had to undergo further surgery to amputate part of her right leg to stop the gangrene. She became deeply depressed, with an inclination for suicide and sadly she never fully recovered and died a week after her 47th Birthday.
Frida's fame has grown since her death and in the 1970's the interest in her work, due to amazing artworks and her involvement in the feminist movement, increased. The V&A exhibition is the first time that her work has been exhibited outside of Mexico and showcases photographs and a collection her belongings which include her decorative prosthetics, jewellery, clothing and make-up by her favourite brand Revlon which opened a manufacturing base in Mexico in 1948.
She was a remarkable woman and has become an enigmatic icon in the world of art and fashion. The injuries she sustained after the bus collision in Mexico City were horrific. Her spine was shattered in three places, her collarbone and ribs broken, her pelvis and shoulder dislocated, her right leg had eleven fractures and a steel handrail skewered her abdomen, exiting her vagina.
Her resilience is awe-inspiring, the physical pain that she must have suffered would have been unbearable. She underwent over thirty major operations which included a bone graft, spinal operations and the amputation of her leg. She also miscarried and was devasted when she realised she would not be able to have a child because of the injuries she sustained from the accident. Perhaps her pain and suffering made her the amazing artist that she became, would she have achieved her iconic status without it?
You can read more about Frida's life here and watch the video below.
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