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Celebrating Frida Kahlo: artist and feminist icon

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Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist born in 1907 who isn’t just revered for her art, but is a much-admired feminist icon. But Kahlo’s life wasn’t plain sailing; she experienced many struggles which inspired her art and have inspired millions of people around the world.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is celebrating Kahlo’s life with their exhibition: Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up, from now until November the 4th. This exhibition is set to be one of the most popular of the year. It’s showcasing personal artifacts of Kahlo’s, including clothing, makeup, and even her prosthetic leg, all of which have never before been exhibited outside Mexico.

When Kahlo was young she suffered from polio. This was the first of a long list of ailments she experienced throughout her life, for example, a broken back – amongst other things – sustained during a bus accident. But none of these prevented her from creating sensational artworks, most of which were self-portraits. In her lifetime, Kahlo had over 30 operations to try to repair the damage she sustained during the bus accident. At times such as these, Kahlo turned to her art, which allowed her to express deeply ingrained emotions and experience some kind of healing. One of Kahlo’s most striking pieces is named ‘The Broken Column’. It depicts a nearly naked Frida, with a split in her torso and nails in her face, reflecting the anguish and hardship she felt about the hurdles in her life, potentially holding her back. Yet, at the same time, she looks strong, dominant and in control. Reflecting the possible dichotomy of the struggle between body and mind.

 

Kahlo had a fiery relationship with fellow communist and Mexican painter, Diego Rivera (1886-1957), including a divorce, two marriages, and multiple affairs; including Rivera having an affair with her sister, Christina. Many of her masterpieces were inspired by the darker side of their tumultuous relationship, including ‘Memory, the Heart’, ‘ The Two Fridas’ and ‘Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair’.  Kahlo also suffered a miscarriage and two abortions for health reasons, the longing for a child and the seeming inability to conceive one was also a present feature in her paintings, for example, 'My Nurse and I'. 

 

It is clear to see just why Kahlo is a feminist icon; though she experienced tremendous hardship, she defied the odds, never let her disabilities define her or stop her from creating art and made political and feminist statments. To celebrate this extraordinary life, check out the V&A’s current exhibition, giving an intimate look at her life and legacy.

 

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