Today marks international women’s day, and after seeing so many photos of Frida Kahlo floating around social media, I wanted to take this opportunity to write something. I’ve written about this before, several years ago, but it’s still something that I think needs to be heard. A little different from my usual twin-related posts and reviews, but hear me out.
I fell in love with Frida’s art and the story of her life many years ago. In 2011, when I was 17, I hopped on a train to Chichester and visited the Pallant art gallery where an intimate selection of works by both Frida and Diego Rivera were displayed side by side. I distinctly remember being the only person in the gallery and was thrilled at being able to get up close with some iconic works. 2011 was before Frida was seen as the icon she is today, so it’s perhaps not surprising that I was the only person there.
Fast forward to 2018 and I was excited to get hold of a ticket for the ‘Frida Kahlo, Making Herself Up’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum. Having attended the Royal College of Music in Kensington, I spent many lunchtimes wandering the halls of the V&A and was happy to be going back to see the museum host an exhibition about an artist I cared so deeply about.
On arrival it was clear that this event was a whole world away from the small 2011 Chichester exhibition. After standing in a long queue for admission, I found myself in the first room, surrounded by information and artefacts from Frida’s life.
One of the first plaques I came across explained that many of the items on display had come from a room that Frida had sealed up. She had hidden these things away on strict instructions that they were not for public consumption, and yet here I was, surrounded by them. Medicine bottles, plaster casts from Frida’s injuries, and other incredibly intimate items. I seemed to be the only person who found this blatant posthumous exploitation of wishes even vaguely uncomfortable. This completely soured the whole exhibition for me, and the whole thing felt incredibly disrespectful to a wonderful artist and powerful woman.
This leads me now to the general iconising of Frida. Her face can be found on everything from T-shirts to kitchen appliances, and yet by purchasing random mass-produced items that depict Frida, who is being supported? Surely if you want to show your love and appreciation for Frida, or make a feminist statement, you should buy responsibly sourced prints of her work, things from small businesses, or items that pay back into industries that need the support.
Frida was a fantastic, and deeply complex woman. There is a wealth of information available about her, her life, and her art, and I implore you to dive into it and explore. Next time you see her face plastered over things, ask yourself if it could be relevant to the values Frida held, and who would buying it benefit?