Making herself up at the V&A
After weeks of trying I’ve finally managed to visit Frida Kahlo’s exhibition at the V&A “Frida Kahlo: Making Herself up”. I told myself that I would get in even if I had to become a member - that is pay at least £70! I got to the museum at 10.05am to a gigantic queue and I managed to get tickets for the 2.15pm slot. Fortunately I had brought my laptop, so I managed to squeeze some work in while waiting. And I also got to do a one-hour guided tour of the Medieval and Renaissance rooms, which was very enlightening. In fact, I wonder if that tour will have a longer lasting impact on me than Kahlo’s exhibition. Not that I didn’t enjoy it; it was truly wonderful. But small. And crowded. V&A’s effort to squeeze more people in (surely the demand was high – look at me willing to become a member just to attend the exhibition) by releasing 200 extra tickets that day, meant that you had to face yet another queue despite having an allotted time. And you could barely take two steps forward without bumping into someone. Thankfully, because the exhibition was relatively short (four, mostly small, rooms), people would get around it quite quickly. And I did what I usually do and started the exhibition back again after an hour and there was no one…
“I wonder if that tour will have a longer lasting impact on me than Kahlo’s exhibition.”
The first room consists of the genealogy of Frida, which gave some context to her family origins (German father, Mexican mother) and her marriage to Diego Rivera. The story is told mainly through photographs and a couple of videos. I love the one at the very end of the room where Frida is with Diego in Casa Azul’s garden, where she lived most of her life. She kisses him on the cheek and then holds his face with both hands and kisses his mouth very sweetly and passionately - you could tell there was a lot of love there. Just to think that I almost missed this video because of the crowd (I only saw it on my second tour of the exhibition). The following room has more portraits and self-portraits of the artist. It certainly wasn’t the crowd’s - or my! - favourite. But as I went from this room to the next there was an interesting corridor with quite a few Votive paintings. They are small paintings that depict religious scenes, particularly images of thanksgiving. The penultimate room explores Frida’s health and all the hardship she had been through, from having polio as a child to her accident as a young adult that left her unable to have children. There are some more portraits and letters hanging on the walls of the room and in the middle of the room her corsets, shoes, walking aids and cosmetics are displayed. A lot of it was found relatively recently in a bathroom of Casa Azul that was locked for years.
One of my favourite parts of the exhibition is the transition between this room and the very last room. As you walk through a dark corridor (the entire exhibition is quite dark) you are greeted with the sight of one of Frida Kahlo’s beautiful dresses (it’s actually not a dress but a long skirt and a top). The effect of walking out of darkness to see this beautiful, colourful, well-lit piece of clothing is quite something. And I couldn’t quite help it but gasp "WOW!" when I saw it.
This last room is the biggest of the four. In the middle there are many of Frida’s outfits, all of which were beautiful and colourful. I loved it! All around there are paitings (as opposed to the previous rooms where there were mainly photographs). A lot of it are self-portraits. I found it intriguing that she is always wearing earrings (big earrings too) in photographs and videos, yet she has naked ears in her self-portraits. My favourite painting in this room was The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Senor Xolotl, 1949. I spent a good 10 minutes studying it - and the more I looked the more I saw. Frida has her hair down (literally) and is cradling a naked Diego as if he was a small baby. Frida’s heart is bleeding. And both Diego and Frida are being held by a larger being (or beings). I couldn’t help but notice the little dog nestling in yang’s arm (the other arm is yin). The plants to each side of the painting look like hands. And the breast of the woman who is above Frida and holding them both is leaking with what looks like breast milk. You can’t see all of this if you only look at the picture for a few seconds. It really is an amazing painting full of details. I didn’t quite appreciate the lighting of the room (and the exhibition as a whole). As it casted a shadow on quite a few of the paintings. And I saw quite a few people struggling to read the notes on the walls. One good thing though. No pictures allowed!