Finally, I made it by the skin of my teeth to the V & A exhibit “Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up.” It was an otherworldly experience and I highly recommend a prompt visit to every woman, and the men who love them, to catch the show. It is up in London’s loveliest museum until the 18th of November. After that, you’ll probably have to travel to Mexico, Coyoacán to be exact, to visit her Blue House, La Casa Azul where the Frida Kahlo Museum is located.
While I’ve known of Kahlo, the artist, the Diego Rivera muse and the exceptionally beautiful woman who wore flowers and jewelry so flamboyantly since my childhood, it wasn’t until I watched the Salma Hayek-produced ‘Frida’ that I realized the kind of struggles and tragedies that Kahlo lived through each and every day of her life, until her premature death at the age of 47. She was afflicted by Polio as a child, survived a horrific accident in a tram while she was in university to study to become a doctor, which left her practically broken in half and her entire life thereafter was a convalescence, a daily flight against death that formed her artistic heritage. Then, just as things couldn’t get any worse, she had her right leg amputated, a procedure from which she never actually recovered. She died on the 13 July 1954 from complications, mostly due to her escalating depression — can you blame her! — and the bronchopneumonia she contracted.
Yet throughout her life, Frida remained a stunning beauty, someone whose pain was hardly noticeable in her expression. For any woman who has had her period or gone through the pains of labor, we know that physical pain is indeed a visible thing, at the very least it shows up in the eyes and I was left in wonder during the V & A exhibit at how incredibly resilient and strong Kahlo’s expression was throughout her painful existence. Not a sign of the tragedies she carried inside were visible on the outside. She painstakingly spent her energy on hiding them, through her unique fashion sense from plain view.
I am not ashamed to admit that I was on the verge of tears throughout the show. While there were far too many toddlers wandering through the halls of the exhibit — I mean, parents ask yourselves what is a four year old going to take away from Frida Kahlo? — and the V & A IMHO sells too many tickets for each time slot, overcrowding the small rooms, I loved the display deeply and personally! From her bathroom wares — Rivera had ordered that her bathroom sanctuary only be unsealed fifty years after her death and in fact, some of the artifacts were only discovered in 2004 — to her stunning, colorful clothing, from her deeply personal paintings to her painted paper maché busts, which offer the viewer a haunting reminder of her various handicaps and conditions, this exhibit broke my heart.
Probably because as a woman, my world, my daily routine is not about how many #MeToo movements are formed and supported, or how visible our struggles can be on Twitter and in newspapers, but a way to prove from my very own depths how the existence of a strong, fully passionate woman is a daily battle for self assertion. And showing the world around us that despite the pain we have been put through we are still female, we can still look good and be sensual beings full of wonderful feelings of joy. Without having to always shout about it — be it the pain or the joy.
Our inner strength is one of the greatest treasures of womankind.
Frida Kahlo was, is and will always remain the poster woman of that movement — the movement of great, courageous and beautiful women everywhere who did, do, will do rather than talk about it.