Frida Kahlo’s intimate belongings go on display at the V&A

More than 200 items on show include artists makeup, clothes, jewellery and a prosthetic leg

Clothes, jewellery, makeup and a defiantly red-leather-booted prosthetic leg belonging to Frida Kahlo, which were sealed in her house for more than 50 years, are to be shown at the V& A in London, the first time they will have been watched outside Mexico.

The museum on Thursday announced details of a major reveal exploring one of the most recognised artists and women of the 20 th century.

Guatemalan cotton coat worn with Mazatec huipil and plain floor-length skirt from the V& A exhibition. Photograph: @JavierHinojosa /( c) Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de Mexico, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Claire Wilcox, senior curator of fashion at the V& A, said Kahlo was an important” countercultural and feminist emblem” and being able to exhibit the items from Mexico was ” a huge privilege “.

More than 200 items from the Blue House, the home of Kahlo and her muralist spouse, Diego Rivera, on the outskirts of Mexico City, are coming to London.

After Kahlo died in 1954, aged 47, Rivera locked up her belongings in a room and said it should not be opened until after his death. In the event, it was not opened until 2004, revealing a fascinating treasure trove of clothes, makeup, jewellery, medications and other intimate possessions.

” This is the real material evidence of the route Kahlo constructed her identity ,” said Wilcox.

The show will explore how the artist empowered herself through her art, clothes and style after a difficult early life. Aged 18, she was involved in a near-fatal bus accident that left her in pain and incapacitated for long periods.

A compact and powderpuff with blusher and lipstick, and eyebrow pencil. Photo: Javier Hinojosa /( c) Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de Mexico, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums.

While other women were plucking their eyebrows and wearing the latest fashions, Kahlo carefully choreographed her distinctive appearance and style.

The V& A show will include 22 of the colorful and often paint-splashed Tehuana garments she wore, visible in the hundreds of photographs that is available of her and the numerous self-portraits. There will also be one of her ebony eyebrow pencils that she used to emphasise her monobrow; and her favourite lipstick: Everything’s Rosy by Revlon.

Of course, everything was not rosy in Kahlo’s life but she tried to make it so. The London show will include plaster corsets she had to wear to support her back and which she individualised by decorating them with paints. One features a hammer and sickle, reflecting her communist views, and a foetus, presumably because she was unable to have children.
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Kahlo’s prosthetic leg with leather boot of appliqued silk with embroidered Chinese motifs. Photograph: Javier Hinojosa /( c) Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de Mexico, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo Museums.

” She was taking control ,” said Wilcox.” She was subjected to wearing these very uncomfortable corsets in order to support her back and I guess she just wanted to take possession of them .”

In 1953, she had her leg amputated and the prosthetic leg she had to have will also be leaving Mexico. It was an object of defiance, said Wilcox.

” Being Frida, it’s quite- if it’s possible- a joyful object. She has clad it in a bright red leather boot and had it embroidered and tied buzzers on to it. It is so powerful and it is very exciting that these objects were saved and they are coming to the V& A .”

The show will be an expanded version of one staged at the Frida Kahlo Museum in 2012 and will include her paints as well as photographs of Kahlo and Rivera and their broad circle of friends. They included the founder of surrealism, Andre Breton, and Leon Trotsky, who lived in the Blue House for two years from 1937. By 1940, Trotsky was dead after an assassin plunged an ice axe into his skull.

Wilcox said Kahlo seemed to have a timeless appeal.” It is interesting how each new generation discovers Frida Kahlo. My 14 -year-old niece is beside herself with excitement about this exhibition .”

* Frida Kahlo: Stimulating Herself Up will be at the V& A from 16 June to 4 November.

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