a review of the v&a’s ‘frida kahlo: making her self up’

courtesy of https://mymodernmet.com/rare-frida-kahlo-photos/

With the interest in Frida Kahlo rising in recent times, I’ve also been rather fascinated with her life and her art, so when I saw an exhibition all about her was going to be shown at the V&A, I had to go. What I found there was a great mix of personal artifacts and artworks, both gave great insight and provided the necessary context to try to better understand Frida, her art and how she ‘made her self up’.


The way in which the exhibition was curated was rather odd, long corridors with things to look at and read on both sides, which meant dodging through the crowd and crossing from side to side in order to try to see everything. And then a connecting circular room, with again, things to see both around the edges and in the middle, which made for a rather awkward experience. I imagine with fewer people the layout would’ve worked well, but due to the sheer number visitors that day, the layout didn’t really help the experience in my opinion.


The variety of different artefacts was something I didn’t expect however and was wonderful, since I went in expecting mainly to see a few items of Kahlo’s clothing and other possessions. What I experience however, was a variety of home videos of the artist and her husband, photographs (both taken by her father, famous photographers and the notorious Vogue photoshoot), a great number of her original paintings (something else I didn’t expect to see) and personal artefacts including clothing, makeup, and her medical items.


One of the things I saw that resonated with me was the fact that a number of photographs owned by her, had been disfigured by her. Kahlo had spent time cutting out faces out of her photographs – in the information provided by the V&A, it said it was unknown as to why she would do this. The face Kahlo had spent so much time removing faces from her photographs seemed rather interesting to me when compared to her own art, in which she focuses so much on the face, especially her own face. Again, this is interesting in the context of her father’s work, Guillermo, a photographer commissioned by the Mexican government to take architectural photographs, however, a large number of his private works were portraits.


image courtesy of http://www.berfrois.com/2011/08/frida-kahlos-corsets/

Another interesting piece in the exhibition were the medical items following Kahlo’s injuries in a bus accident in 1925, plaster corsets and prosthetic legs. The plaster corsets were usually something disposed of, yet Kahlo had decorated each one with flowers, anatomical diagrams (following her miscarriage) and the very recognisable hammer and sickle associated with soviet communism. Kahlo kept these items as ‘a record of suffering and endurance’ and I think as proof of her strength. She had taken items that were clinical and a symbol of suffering, and decorated them, painted them to make items that were beautiful in their own right, not just evidence of her medical struggle.


Kahlo experimented with her style and her ‘look’ throughout her lifetime, as the many artefacts provided evidence for. She owned western clothes, as well as oriental styles of clothing and of course, more traditional Mexican attire. She often used bright colours and

courtesy of https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/frida-kahlo-making-her-self-up

heavy jewellery to focus attention upwards and away from her leg and on her face, heavy, long skirts to further conceal her long, as well as traditional huipil tops, which were beautifully embroidered but also allowed her adequate movement and concealed her plaster corset beneath if she needed to wear one in that point in time. Through her use of traditional clothing, Kahlo was able to feel comfortable throughout her medical treatment, but also to celebrate Mexican culture and move away from western ideals of beauty which seemed to dominate (highlighted through Kahlo’s celebration of female body hair).


Overall, the exhibition was a wonderful overview of Kahlo’s life, through many different mediums, which allowed you to get understand how she ‘made her self up’. How her life events, her childhood, her father, the accident, Diego, all contributed to how to viewed herself and in turn, how she chose to present herself, in a way now so iconic with her posthumous celebration (dubbed, ‘Fridamania’). Kahlo ‘revolutionised self-portraiture’ through her own understanding of herself and of the person she rendered. I highly recommend the V&A’s exhibition – please see it if you can, this is the first time many of Kahlo’s possessions have left Mexico and it is a very worthwhile trip.



Unfortunately, no photos were allowed in the exhibition, so I’ve credited any pictures I’ve used in this blog post.

Featured image – credit to https://www.vam.ac.uk/event/VADoeEP5/teacher-twilight-frida-kahlo-june-2018-updated


Written by Emily Stokes


4 Responses

    1. Hi there,
      Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed within the exhibition so I cannot provide video footage. There are however, I’m sure, many many documentaries on the subject of Frida Kahlo available on youtube. Thanks for reading!

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