Saturday, 3 January 2015

Frida Kahlo wearing clothes and bossing it

I got this set of beautiful prints by Annie's Fingers while Christmas shopping at Mucho Mas K Market in Seville. They show three of the Spanish speaking world's most famous and popular artists, represented with these quirky illustrations and accompanied by a quote. I was shopping for other people but sometimes you just have to admit to yourself that nobody would appreciate something as much as you would.

Gaudí, Picasso, Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is one of my favourite artists, which isn't that interesting because she's probably one of the most popular artists in the world. Even so, a lot of people have never heard of her or aren't really familiar with her art which always surprises me. I first found out about her during a GCSE art class from which my most lasting memory is that she painted a picture of herself being given birth to. What a babe. Her work deals with her identity as a Mexican woman, as well as the tragedies and difficulties she faced throughout her life and her relationship with her own body. Last year when I was in Mexico I got to visit her "Blue House" in Mexico City, a beautiful museum, where there was a special exhibition on show in collaboration with Vogue Mexico, about her clothes, called "Las Apariencias enganan: los vestidos de Frida Kahlo". I liked Kahlo before I went to the museum but seeing her home and finding out more about her really made me fall in love.

"Naturaleza Muerta", 1942, Frida Kahlo at the Museo de Frida Kahlo
I thought this meant Dead Nature, but is actually a translation for "Still Life"
If you don't know much about Kahlo's style I guess it might seem shallow to put a whole show on her about her clothes, but actually pne of the aspects of Kahlo's life I find really interesting is her sense of style. Having suffered polio as a child she was left with one leg much weaker than the other, and then after a a horrible road accident, she had to wear a large metal corset/brace to help support her back. Unable to wear the fashions of the times on top of this corset, she turned to her Mexican roots. Traditional Mexican clothing features large woollen skirts and kaftans, covered in wonderful embroidery, and Frida would combine this Mexican dress with ethnic clothes from Guatemala and China as well as European and North American fashion. Her outfits were designed to cover or obscure her legs and corsets, and the amazing colours and embroidery distracted any attention from her body This is an extract from one of the boards at the museum:
"Frida's use of this traditional dress to strengthen her identity, reaffirming her poilical beliefs, and concealing her imperfections, also built on her own sense of heritage and personal history."
I love how her sense of style was able to go beyond 'fashion' and instead became part of her true identity and sense of self. At the museum you could see one of the corsets she wore, all leather straps and metal buckles. They also showed some of her most legendary outfits, and I love her style.

Frida Kahlo's head dress
Some amazing cat eye sunglasses
She would paint herself in the traditional outfits, surrounded by imagery about her life, as well as wearing them. Carlos Fuentes wrote "Frida’s arrival at the Palacio de Bellas Artes would be announced by the sound of her jewellery and how the architectural grandeur of the palace, its paintings and the captivating music of its concerts would be instantaneously outshone by her striking presence". Surely everyone dreams of being described like that!?

Photo of Frida painting in one of her traditional outfits.
(Photo from Museo de Frida Kahlo website)
It was while she was recovering from an operation, and committed to bed rest, that she wrote in her diary the quote that Annie's Fingers uses in the print: "Legs. What do I need them for if I have wings to fly?". The diary page is on display in the museum.

"Pies, para qué los quiero si tengo alas pa' volar. 1953"
This was written a year before her death in 1954.
Without context the quote seems airy and cheerful, but with this drawing it is more than that. She is trying to be defiant. Defiant in the face of difficulty and pain. Having the intimate contents of your diary - and, in fact, your entire house - on display to the general public may be less than ideal for most people. But there is so much beauty there that although I felt a bit like a stalker I felt so lucky to see it. She's inspirational; her beautiful and timeless art allows her to overcome her physical restrictions.

You can follow Annie's Fingers on Instagram to find out more about her artwork.
There is more info from the exhibition about Kahlo's fascinating wardrobe here and the Museum's website has lots of photos of her and her art.
All photos are mine except the one of Frida herself. ahhhhh looking back at my photos of Mexico always breaks my heart because I just want to go back!!

Tara xx

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