I recently visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, to view the Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up exhibition. I had been highly anticipating visiting the exhibition as it was the first time a collection of Frida’s personal belongings and artefacts had been shown outside Mexico since her death over 50 years ago.
Frida is one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary women, a painter, born near Mexico City; she grew up during the turbulent days of the Mexican Revolution. Her talent was to make her one of the century’s most enduring artists, but her remarkable paintings were only one element of a rich and dramatic life.
Throughout the exhibition, I was left feeling more and more astonished, as I learnt of the struggles and tragedy Frida experienced with her health throughout her life. She survived polio at the age of six and at the age of eighteen, she was the victim of a devastating road accident that left her crippled and unable to bear children. Due to these injuries she was bedridden for months at a time for the rest of her life and had to suffer wearing hard and uncomfortable corsets. In her later days, she contracted gangrene and lost a leg to amputation.
To discover the suffering that Frida endured was overwhelming, but it was the strength and determination that she showed throughout her injuries and illness that I found so inspiring. She would not let them define her. Whilst bedridden she would ensure that she was dressed in her best clothes and would drape herself in her finest jewellery, with her hair braided and makeup applied. She also spent this time painting from her bed, being creative with her ideas. Frida wanted to ensure that she could still express herself even though she couldn’t go out into the world during this time. She laid herself bare through the artwork.
Frida’s relationship and a tumultuous marriage to the muralist Diego Rivera showed her pushed to her limits emotionally as well as being pushed physically by her ailing health. She famously said ‘’There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the train the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.’’ He was a womaniser, it was even rumoured he had an affair with Frida’s own sister. The pair were divorced in 1939, but then re-married the following year. Though there was constant heartache between them, there was a passionate connection that meant they were never apart for long.
Frida was involved with the Communist Party and was immersed in Mexican folklore and culture. She was well travelled, visiting Europe and the US. Her spirit for travel, as well as her love for her home country, influenced her fashion choices and inspired her artwork.
Frida was an amazing person. She went through so much in the name of diversity, she knew struggles that most people couldn’t even comprehend, and not only did she take it all in her stride, but she turned it into art.
‘’They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.’’ – Frida Kahlo