MAKING HER SELF UP – FRIDA KAHLO AT THE V&A, LONDON

1

by Carmina Masoliver

Ever since I studied Frida Kahlo in class, I have been a fan. Self Portrait with Monkeys (1943) and The Broken Column (1944) always stood out in my mind from those years, the monkeys offering a protective symbolism, and the latter painting signifying a kind of strength through suffering. Like Kahlo, I enjoyed painting self-portraits, and I found it difficult to paint other faces with the same accuracy.

More of a conceptual artist myself, the stories behind visual art have always intrigued me. Whenever I visit galleries, my eyes are drawn as much to the text as they are the images. This is why the excellent biopic Frida (2002), starring Salma Hayek, made an enormous impression on me and it’s also why I knew that the V&A exhibition Making Her Self Up would be unmissable.

it is certainly worth remembering what Kahlo stood for, namely her rejection of capitalism.

Like other revolutionary figures – think: Che Guevara t-shirts – it has been argued that Kahlo has been commodified and made into a pop culture icon in a way that dissociates from her as an artist and a human being. Whilst I couldn’t resist a pair of Kahlo earrings from Mexican designers wajiro dream on a recent visit and own a tribute cushion cover from an Etsy store, it is certainly worth remembering what Kahlo stood for, namely her rejection of capitalism.

Kahlo was radical in her politics, and this extended into her personal life as a bisexual woman, her lifelong disability due to polio, the tragic accident in 1922, and her honesty about her experiences with miscarriage and abortion, which continue to be topics that are brushed under the carpet even today, 64 years after her death.

we can only assume her way of dealing with the hurt from his affairs (including one with her own sister) was to have her own, thus reclaiming her autonomy and sexual agency.

She suffered not only physically, but also emotionally. Her tumultuous relationship with fellow artist and communist Diego Rivera, is perhaps a historic example of how some politically progressive men can fail at upholding egalitarian and feminist values when it comes to personal relationships. The couple divorced, only to remarry, and we can only assume her way of dealing with the hurt from his affairs (including one with her own sister) was to have her own, thus reclaiming her autonomy and sexual agency.

The exhibition helps to tell Kahlo’s story, a story that has been told so often that it surprises me when people have not heard of her, or do not know about her life or her work as an artist. Yet, there is always more to discover, and the collection at the V&A allows us to learn yet more about her. Having been locked away for fifty years following Kahlo’s death, various personal artefacts and clothing are uncovered here for the first time outside of Mexico.

the-broken-column

Kahlo’s The Broken Column, 1944

Inside the exhibition you will see photographs alongside some of her paintings, as well as artefacts that are more emotionally difficult to look at, such as the medical corsets she had to wear, some decorated by Kahlo. It was being bedridden that ironically created the works that we see today, with Kahlo having a mirror installed above her bed so she could paint her self-portraits more easily. There’s film footage of La Casa Azul (The Blue House), and incredible outfits on display that combine her signature long skirts and traditional shawls.

Kahlo, in both her portraits and real life, rejected traditional beauty standards by wearing her facial hair with pride, yet would always paint her lips and thread flowers and fabric through her hair. Whilst at times the exhibition seems to exhibit too many fine details from her life, and I’m wondering if we will see a spike in sales in her favourite lipstick, there is something to gain both for fans who are familiar with her work, and those just beginning to discover her world.

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up has been extended until Sunday 18th November. Limited tickets can be bought on the day at 10am from the Grand Entrance on a first-come, first-served basis.

Featured photo credit: Carl Van Vechten (public domain)


The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution to fund a better media future.

REVIEW: THE DAY OF THE DUCK, BY HELEN STRATFORD AND LAWRENCE BRADBY

by Ewa Giera

Content warning: xenophobia, discrimination

The Day of the Duck, by Helen Stratford and Lawrence Bradby, takes form of neither a scripted play, nor a novel: intertwined with visual diagrams, elements of script and a simple, character-driven narrative, the book is a unique experience as opposed to a traditional novel. The story revolves around a Muscovy duck, the last of its species in a town heavily based on Ely in Cambridgeshire, whose goal is to discover why its brethren have all disappeared. The book is framed as a noir detective-style plot – the Muscovy duck takes on the role of the detective and asks all the uncomfortable questions to people whose names it’s not concerned with, which serves the aim of having the characters translate as everymen.Continue Reading

WILL TEATHER AT THE UNDERDOG GALLERY – REVIEW

By Carmina Masoliver

Having grown up in Norfolk, Will Teather is an artist who has been firmly placed in Norwich, where he works as an Associate Lecturer at Norwich University of the Arts and occasionally takes up residencies, reaching as far as New York. His distinctive style combines traditional skills and imagery, with a psychedelic twist.

Continue Reading

BAD FAITH

by Carmina Masoliver

I was invited to the premiere of Bad Faith, a collaborative piece by by English poet, Jemima Foxtrot, Belgian choreographer, Tara D’Arquian and Icelandic designer Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson. They worked with poetry, lighting design and dance to explore Sartre’s concept of bad faith through themes of womanhood and loss.

Continue Reading

INTO THE TARDIS – CHAPEL BREAK SCHOOL’S PHILOSOPHICAL CREATIVE PROGRAMME

by Laura Potts

The TARDIS programme at Chapel Break Infant School is an exemplary example of creative education and an inspirational learning environment. For 10 years, the programme has transformed classrooms into imaginative environments for young minds to explore and develop in. TARDIS stands for ‘Thinking Arts Reflective Dialogue Imagination Studio’. The aim of its resourceful staff is to immerse the children in philosophical and creative enquiry:

‘The learning consists of the development of a range of skills, including speaking and listening, debate and discussion, a variety of thinking skills, social skills, independence of thought and action and persistence. It builds a knowledge and experience of the visual arts beyond those that can be offered within the usual classroom setting.’

Continue Reading

NORWICH GRAFFITI: ART OR VANDALISM?

by Joe Rutter

Graffiti: the obstinate, acne-covered teenager of the Arts. It wants to be noticed, to be valued, but at the same time shirks acceptance, awkwardly lurking in the shadows of society, preferring nocturnal thrills and bricked-wall canvases to sober gallery exhibits. And Street Art divides opinion like no other medium. Depending on where you stand – you might be an anarchistic advocate or an unimpressed traditionalist – graffiti can dazzle or disgust. But whether you think it’s the scourge of the city or a vibrant channel of urban expression, graffiti is finding itself a home in Norwich. Should it stay?Continue Reading