Frida Kahlo (b. 1907) is undoubtedly one of Mexico’s national treasures. Despite having had no formal art education, she produced work of formidable value and strength. Furthermore, her career only spanned three decades before her untimely death in 1945, yet she is renown throughout the world.

Frida Kahlo. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum Frida Kahlo. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum

The exhibition, Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is particularly exciting. This is because the items featured in the show have never before been exhibited outside of Mexico. For fifty years they have been locked away in the artist’s home and studio, ‘The Blue House’, which she shared with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, in Coyoacàn on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Guatemalan cotton coat worn with Mazatec huipil and plain floor-length skirt. Photo: Museo Frida Kahlo Guatemalan cotton coat worn with Mazatec huipil and plain floor-length skirt. Photo: Museo Frida Kahlo

Do personal effects provide a deeper insight into one’s identity? If we scan the shelves and wardrobes of our own homes, I’m sure we can all agree that the answer is a strong yes. From the spine of our books to our clothing choices and brands of beauty products, these intimate items disclose our tastes and interests.

Forming a strong component to the V&A exhibition is Kahlo’s personal effects: her garments, floral headpieces, prosthetic leg, plaster corset, cosmetics, medicines, photographs, documents and more. These items help to share her vision and paint a picture (pun intended) of the life she lived.

Prosthetic leg with leather boot. Photo: Museo Frida Kahlo Prosthetic leg with leather boot. Photo: Museo Frida Kahlo

Diving deep into these items, one is able to discover more about Kahlo’s ailments, politics and ethnicity. For example, she sought to wear clothing that would hide her disabilities. Her orthopaedic corset was exquisitely decorated, and her dresses and skirts were made long to cover her prosthetic leg, which was further hidden by a red leather boot. It is these facets of identity which echo her life and, ultimately, her self-portraiture.

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” – Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940. Photo: Nickolas Muray collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940. Photo: Nickolas Muray collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin

The exhibition ends on 4 November, which might seem a while away yet, but it’s nearly September and – let’s face it – the year is quickly passing before us. We suggest you get in quick while you can.

Discover more on Frida Kahlo here

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