Frida Kahlo’s body was a site of devastation. Childhood polio left her disabled. A bus crash at the age of 18 nearly killed her, and left her both immobile and in unimaginable pain. At the age of 46, her right leg was amputated.
Pain thrums at the heart of Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, the blockbuster new exhibition at the V&A. Visitors encounter this pain through display cabinets showcasing opiates and orthopaedic aids, body braces and casts, and through the twisted grimace on her face in the photographs that line the walls.
This exhibition, though, is not about sensationalising Kahlo’s physical suffering, as some reviewers have suggested. Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up is not about what happened to her body, but the stories she chose to tell with it. ‘Pies para qué los quiero si tengo alas para volar’, reads the famous inscription of a painting displayed next to Kahlo’s crutches. The quote translates to, ‘Feet, what do I need them for, when I have wings to fly’.
And fly she did – out of the injury-ridden constraints she faced in her life and into her creativity. As well as her art objects, Kahlo crafted a personal style that was as crucial to her fame as her paintings.
But these traits were more than a fashion statement. In putting on this costume, Kahlo transformed her broken body into a canvas. She was self-fashioning; her attire was – much like the paintings that arguably take a backseat in this exhibition – a form of self-portraiture.
Even prescribed medical clothes she made her own, and this point is driven home by the vast array of objects on display. We see Kahlo’s illustrated plaster corsets that held her broken body in place, and the prosthetic leg she designed for herself – complete with red embroidered boots.
Recognisable by her single, brazen eyebrow, Frida Kahlo defied the constraints of her physical form – in art, in life and even in death. Indeed, on the day of her cremation, it is said that as she entered the furnace, the violence of the heat forced her body to sit up and her hair to catch fire.
This great female artist has been rewritten by recent history – first as a feminist icon, and now as a fashion touchstone. This exhibition doesn't just show the Frida who once lived, but the Frida who lives on in the public imagination. It is a shrine to her memory – to the great artist that she was, and to the inspiration she is now – on and off the Pinterest boards.
|What||Review: Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, V&A|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
16 Jun 18 – 18 Nov 18, Times vary
|Website||Click here for more information|