Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter who was best recognised for her portraits, including her exceptional self-portraits. She died in 1954 and four years later her home, the Casa Azul, became the Museum Frida Kahlo. For 50 years, all her belongings were locked away until 2004, where recognition of her possessions enabled a deeper understanding of Frida Kahlo as an artist.
The exhibition Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up was organised by the V&A and allowed a fresh view on Frida Kahlo’s life through incredibly intimate personal belongings. Displayed in the exhibition were items such as photographs including self-portraits, documents, film footage, letters, drawings, costumes, jewellery, corsets, medical supplies and more. What was intriguing was that everything on display had previously come to light in her paintings or photographs, but all these objects had not only never left Mexico but additionally had never been seen in Mexico either.
The reason I’m using this exhibition as research is because my project focuses on the meaning of home, space and identity, and this exhibition unravels the construction of self through objects and belongings. Frida Kahlo learned to create iconic self-portraits as well as posing for the camera. When posing for the camera, what would later be produced was a reverse, a mirror image. Her father was the one who taught her how to pose as he viewed the world through the lens of his camera. It’s believed that his self-portraits wouldn’t have been as successful had he not had a mirror. Frida Kahlo had an impressive sense of self-regard, learnt from him, which can be seen in Lola Álvarez Bravo’s photographs where she is regarding herself in the mirror. Mirrors were also carried into the exhibition to emphasise the idea of the self and the viewing of self. Claire Wilcox, a co-curator of the exhibition, stated “We don’t know, when we look at images of Frida, whether we’re looking at her, or ourselves.”
The most noteworthy aspects of the exhibition were the focus on identity and construction of such. Introducing the word ‘her’ into the title informs and gives the construction of identity to Kahlo herself. The curators shared insight into the choosing of the title, saying that it was formed based on the exhibition being about the way she was able to construct and reconstruct her identity. She was able to do this through cosmetics, her face, and her preparing of her appearance for others, further highlighting that possessions and belongings give a personal insight into one’s identity.