Frida Kahlo: The enduring appeal of a feminist icon

An immersive exhibition on the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo reminds us of the enduring appeal of the feminist icon.

Who wouldn’t recognise the iconic self-portraits that capture her soulful, expressive face. Her dark hair, parted and twisted atop her head with the crown of flowers and of course the singular brow that frames her dark, steely eyes.

Frida Kahlo: The life of an Icon, is a multimedia experience that brings her story to life through a variety of different mediums. Co-created by the Frida Kahlo Corporation and Spanish digital arts company Layers of Reality, it recounts the major events of her life, which sometimes altering the fabric of her existence, through multiple videos, soundscapes still images and a VR animation that takes you a first-person ride through her life landscapes.

Afflicted with polio as a child, Frida spent much time at home immersing herself in books while also being influenced by her father, who shared his love of music and ideas. Her unconventional and tortured marriage to artist Diego Rivera and her other affairs and relationships brought love but also heartbreak and betrayal. It was the bus accident that left her badly damaged, after which she underwent many surgeries and lived in constant pain and was unable to have a child that so shaped her life, and her artwork.

She worked, creating a substantial body of work, travelled to the United States and Europe, has the honour of having created the first Mexican artwork purchased by the Louvre and supported the Communists and Revolutionaries pushing for better conditions for workers in Mexico in the 1920s and 30s. The Blue House is the national museum in Mexico devoted to Frida Kahlo and her work.

A life express through art

She had an eventful, if brief, life, marred by pain, loss and discomfort — themes she explored within her artwork. Her body of work, consisting of numerous self-portraits, depict the preoccupations of her life. The female form is contorted, disfigured, mutilated, entwined with roots and branches. She’s alone, a singular figure in many paintings, while others capture her husband, Diego Rivera, themes of childbirth and babies, and the bloody, surgical experience of the female body is depicted in stark, confronting paintings.

The exhibition opens with the altar, in the traditional Mexican style, pays homage to the dead with symbols of death and the afterlife. Multiple interactive videos and animations capture some of the recurrent themes in her art— fertility, life essence, pain, birth and death represented by her artistic leitmotifs of decorative painted skulls, rotund watermelons and marigolds at the symbol of death. A 360-degree video montage displays historical photos, images of her self-portraits and other pictures around the walls of the space.

The alter celebrates the life of Frida Kahlo

A revealing look at the artist through her personal artefacts

Frida’s personal belongings, including her decorated corset, prosthetic leg, clothing and favourite make-up were featured in an exhibition at the V&A in London that the Broad enjoyed in 2018 during her time in the UK. It was the first time her clothing and artefacts had been displayed after being closeted away in the Blue House, her home in Mexico. Some of the exhibition highlights are still on the museum’s website.

Frida Kahlo makeup
Frida’s make-up faves. Source: V&A Museum

Frida Kahlo’s artwork asks us to experience momentarily what it must have been like to live in pain while having a spirit that stayed free and a heart that was open. Her peasant-style dress and artful hairstyle was a departure from the feminine expression of the time. She sought to earn her own income and loved in her own way, despite the constraints of pain and injury.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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