Mexico City's Blue House, the home Frida Kahlo shared with her muralist husband, Diego Rivera, is a moving celebration of the life and work of the influential Mexican, one of the most acclaimed artists and feminist trailblazers of the 20th century. Kahlo's personal belongings lie seemingly untouched in the rooms in which she lived her creative, tumultous, and all-too-short life. Downstairs, her wardrobe is on display behind glass cabinets. There are colourful, bright dresses, and sweeping, full-circle skirts, maxi shawls in boisterous prints, and necklaces inspired by Mexican folk craft. And there are more sombre items: body casts and corsets, which Kahlo had to wear for the rest of her life after a near-fatal bus crash left her heavily debilitated when she was 18, and a prosthetic leg she decorated with an embroidered red lace-up boot and a bell, which Kahlo had to use after losing her leg to gangrene in 1953.
This month, some 200 of these revealing artefacts will be leaving Mexico for the first time, to be shown at the V&A in London in a major retrospective—Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. On display will be make-up, clothes and jewellery, but also photographs, intimate objects and that defiant prosthetic leg. It will be "a picture of Frida's life—the way she constructed her identity through the actual objects," co-curator Claire Wilcox, senior curator of fashion at the V&A, told Dazed magazine. It will also poignantly reveal the tight intersection of style, tradition and progressivism that has come to define the influential visionary. "Kahlo created her own distinctive style," says the exhibition's other curator, Circe Henestrosa, head of the school of fashion at Singapore's Lasalle College of the Arts. "As a bohemian artist, a Tehuana, a hybrid persona, she used art and dress to express herself."
The exhibition couldn't be better timed. Kahlo has long been hailed as a fashion icon and has inspired a number of designers, including Jean-Paul Gaultier in 1998, REi Kawakubo in 2012, and Roland Mouret and Cushnie et Ochs this past spring, as well as Gucci, Riccardo Tisci's Givenchy, Burberry, and Dolce & Gabbana over various seasons.
But in recent years, Kahlo's influence has also reverberated beyond high fashion, into the realms of the high street and social media. Her work has appeared on anything from tees to plaids, candles and phone covers, Tumblr and Instagram. In March, to mark International Women's Day, Mattel released a Frida Barbie, one of a new collection depicting inspirational women. Whether one approves of the commodification, there's no doubt that the Mexican artist has become an inspiring cult figure for women everywhere, even more so in the #MeToo era. Putting her personal objects on such a prominent stage outside Mexico is bound to add to the buzz around her. "I think Kahlo's powerful style is as integral to her myth as her paintings," Henestrosa says. "It is her construction of identity through her ethnicity, her disability, her political beliefs, and her art that makes her such a compelling and revellant icon today."
[Image: Frida Kahlo on A Bench, Carbon Print. Photograph: Nickolas Muray. The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and The Verge, Nickolas Muray Photo Archives; All images courtesy of Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up 16 June - 14 November 2018, Sponsored by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland]
This story appears in the July 2018 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstands, or subscribe here.