A ribbon around a bomb

Visiting the V&A’s Frida Kahlo exhibition

This week I visited the V&A, who are exhibiting Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. A deeply intimate look into Kahlo’s life and work, with an emphasis on her striking personal style. Frida’s life is of deep fascination to many. Her posthumous success can be partly attributed to the rise of the feminism movement in the 70s, that saw more to her than simply ‘Wife of the master mural painter Diego Rivera.’ For many women, Frida has become a symbol of Revolution.

The V&A shares her charming and all too captivating nature in a chronological sequence. Starting from her early life, which features photos of a teenage Frida in a suit, through to her last years in which she visited her own exhibition on a hospital bed.

To erect an artist’s mind, or attempt to, up onto walls and glass cabinets is no easy feat. Humans are layered, we carry with us many faces and capturing that can be difficult, to say the least. With much of Frida’s source material and inspiration plastered on the walls, the experience quickly becomes an emotional one. Her health difficulties including several miscarriages, demonstrated by her doctor’s notes, now sitting for show and tell. A particularly poignant moment where the question has to be asked: Was this level of intrusion necessary?

Perhaps, to get the ‘full picture’ — you can only presume that permission has been sought from those that were once closest to her. Still, is this what she would’ve wanted?

Too many times, there’s a niggling discomfort that follows discovery. The empty medicine bottles that once stood on her desk, now in a glass case for us all to ponder at. The letters she received from her lover, in plain English for us to gawk at. It’s all well and good learning more about people we admire, people who’ve changed their world, as well as ours. In this pursuit, what lines are we willing to cross?

It’s a few weeks later now and I don’t have the answer, at least for myself. I haven’t come to THE conclusion that I thought I would. The one sentence conclusion that would tie this mess into a neat bow. All I come up with, eventually: We’ll never know what she would’ve wanted, though curators do a thorough job in resurrecting her spirit.

Now, all that’s left is to prod you: go see Frida Kahlo’s life and work at the V&A. At the least it will leave you with some ethical questions. And at it’s best it is fuel, with the power to ignite fire within you. An ode to Kahlo’s timeless, uninhibited spirit. A spirit that was once described by André Breton as a ribbon around a bomb.