Colour photograph of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo holding a traditional figurine against a blue door

Frida Kahlo with Olmec figurine, 1939. Photograph Nickolas Muray. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up is an examination of the creation of an artist – and a person, – rather than of the artworks themselves. Viewers enter through a corridor made to resemble Casa Azul in its brilliant colour (the ‘Blue House’ in Mexico City was where Kahlo grew up and lived with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera) – a fitting invitation into the artist’s intimate world. On display are grainy family portraits scribbled with Kahlo’s own hand (one striking image of Kahlo dressed for her Catholic Confirmation reads Idiota! revealing the artist’s retrospective self-perception and changing views towards religion), video reels, Kahlo’s iconic costumes, medicines, lipstick, jewellery.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo pictured in blue silk blouse standing against a maroon background

Frida Kahlo in blue satin blouse, 1939. Photograph Nickolas Muray © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

Follow LUX on Instagram: the.official.lux.magazine

It’s haunting and atmospheric with speakers playing birdsong and ambient music as you drift through the different coloured rooms, and in some ways, it does feel like an intrusion. You can’t help, but feel an air of macabre voyeurism as you gaze at Kahlo’s illustrated body casts, bottles of pills, lipstick stain on a pocket photograph of Rivera… You might well question whether Kahlo would have wanted these things exposed at all?

And of course, we can’t know for sure, but Kahlo was, in every aspect of her life, a performer. She was, as the exhibition shows, an extension of her art.

Iconic Love Embrace Painting by Frida Kahlo

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Me, Diego, and Señor Xolotl, Frida Kahlo, 1949 (c) The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and The Vergel Collection

It is deeply moving, and important to see the physical evidence of Kahlo’s suffering (at the age of 18, she was in a bus crash that left her with lifelong disability) and to place this alongside her iconic paintings that are steeped with complex symbolism and emotion. She was a proud and brave woman, and the exhibition is a beautiful celebration of all that she achieved and endured.

‘Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up’ is sponsored by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, and runs until 4 November 2018 at the V&A. For more information visit vam.ac.uk/FridaKahlo

Millie Walton