Every morning there are long queues of people outside the V&A. They are hoping to get a ticket, standing there for over an hour, before the museum opens. The exhibition has been sold out for months and when it got extended for two weeks this Monday the website could not cope with the number of people trying to get tickets. Everyone seems obsessed with Frida.
Did I say everyone? It is certainly not everyone. When I visited the exhibition most visitors were women. Women of all ages and backgrounds, but still, women. I’ve heard men describing Frida as ugly, puzzled with the mania around her.
Frida Kahlo managed to become an idol while having a unibrow. She proved that you don’t have to fit a box and follow rules made by others to be beautiful. You are beautiful just the way you are. There has always been pressure for women to fit a beauty stereotype; to be thin, or curvy, or flat stomached AND curvy at the same time, be blonde, always smile, dye your hair, wax… the list goes on. How about simply being ourselves, in all shades and shapes, beautiful in our unique way? As RuPaul would say, if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?
Frida does have a unique, unconventional beauty, while she definitely did not neglect her appearance. She chose her garments carefully, styling every part of her body with the most beautiful silk shawls and skirts, according to her biographer Hayden Herrera. She rarely appeared casually dressed, even at her easel.
Dressing in Tehuana attire had a strong feminist message. Tehuanas lived in a matriarchal society in which women dominated and wore floor-length skirts, richly embroidered blouses and dressed their hair with ribbons and flowers. Frida constructed her identity very carefully and this attire appealed particularly to her.
These long skirts and loose blouses did a wonderful job of hiding while flattering her body. Frida contracted polio when she was six years old and had a tram accident when she was 18, which caused over 20 bone structures.
Her fractured body and trauma are a core theme in her paintings. She was not a martyr asking for pity, her fractured spine was embellished with corsets that she adorned. Her deficiency turned into art.
A lot of people have criticised the music in the V&A exhibition, saying that it’s too sad, they wanted some joyful Mexican music. All I have to say to that is, take a look at Frida’s artwork and you will see melancholy. Photos of her are not dissimilar, you’ll struggle to see her smiling. That is not to say that her work or identity is about suffering. It is about strength, a revolutionary idealism and nationhood, all portrayed with pride and patience. So no, having a happy Mexican soundtrack would simply not be relevant.
The founder of Surrealism Andre Breton described her paintings like a ‘ribbon around a bomb’. She was and still is a rebel. An amazing artist. An icon.
Photography is not allowed in the exhibition but you take a sneak peek here.
The exhibition is now open until Sunday 18 November and it is open for 24 hours daily from Friday 2 to Sunday 4 November. Find out more