Frida Kahlo’s… Mexico
June 16th 2018 marks the opening of the V&A’s Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up exhibition. Many of the Mexican artist’s personal artefacts will be displayed outside Mexico for the first time, offering an intimate look into the artist’s life and shedding light on her enigmatic identity that manifested itself so frequently in her introspective art.
Kahlo is famous for her self-portraits and Mexican folk art in a pseudo-naïve style that has an underlying complex reality. Around 200 of her paintings illustrate her personal life experiences and much of what influenced her identity came from her surroundings. Her work exposes her tumultuous life and it is apparent that in order to delve deeper into the woman behind the canvas, one must first look to Mexico.
Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera – the famous Mexican muralist – spent four years living in the US but it is clear that her heart was firmly rooted in Mexico. A perfect example is My Dress Hangs There (1933) as it is set in New York where the culture seems estranged to her. The painting’s focal point is the Mexican traditional dress, while the church has a dollar hanging from it, indicating the American worship of Mammon – the evil influence of material wealth.
La Casa Azul
Museo Frida Kahlo, Coyoacán, Mexico City
Kahlo lived the majority of her life in La Casa Azul in Mexico City, which now houses the Frida Kahlo Museum. Aptly named for its cobalt blue exterior, The Blue House was built in traditional colonial style around a courtyard. The contents have remained largely untouched and the rooms stand much as they were when Frida herself lived here. The museum encompasses ten rooms filled with Kahlo’s minor works and personal mementos as well as works by Diego Rivera. The urn containing her ashes and her four-poster bed are the most fascinating. After the accident in 1925 that left her bed-bound for two months, she began painting from this bed. A bespoke easel was built for her to use and a mirror placed on the roof of the bed so she could see herself as a reference point.
The museum offers guided tours during opening hours on Tuesday-Sunday. On the last Wednesday of each month, an actress plays Frida and gives a dramatized tour around “her” home. After visiting her house, you can walk the streets of the colourful artistic Coyoacán neighbourhood. At the Coyoacán market you can sample tamales – a typical snack made of masa or dough steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf – which was one of Frida’s favourite snacks.
Colegio de San Ildefonso, Centro Histórico, Mexico City
In the historic centre of Mexico City is Colegio de San Ildefonso. Originally a Jesuit boarding school, it became a national preparatory school in 1867 when education passed from the hands of the church to the government. This is the college that Frida attended and where she met future husband Rivera while he was painting his first government-commissioned mural La Creation (1922). During the post-revolution 1920s, the government sponsored artists to paint Mexico’s history and politics. Colegio de San Ildefonso became the birthplace of the muralist movement. Since 1992, the college has been a museum and cultural centre with stunning architecture and a beautiful collection of historical and political artworks.
Colegio de San Ildefonso
Museo Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, San Angel, Mexico City
Designed by architect and painter Juan O’Gorman, this fantastic creation was Kahlo and Rivera’s home and studio space from 1934 to 1940. It was also one of the first functionalist architectural structures in Latin America. Kahlo and Rivera each had their own separate house connected by a bridge: Kahlo’s blue and Rivera’s pink and white. Along with marvelling at many of Rivera’s works where they were created, you can witness the space where Kahlo produced What the Water Gave Me (1938), one of the paintings that shaped her career. This home was also privy to two of Kahlo’s abortions and Rivera’s devastating affair with Kahlo’s sister, Christina.
Museo Dolores Olmedo & Museo de Arte Moderno, La Noria, Mexico City
What would a tour of Frida’s Mexico be without a thorough exploration of her artworks themselves? The Museo Dolores Olmedo houses the largest and most important collection of Kahlo’s works, alongside Rivera’s works. The collection includes The Broken Column (1944), Self-Portrait with Small Monkey (1945) and Henry Ford Hospital (1932). There is also a collection of over 900 archeological pieces from diverse Mexican cultures, giving an insight into the heritage Kahlo cherished so dearly.
Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City
The Museo de Arte Moderno houses over 300 paintings of modern 20th-century Mexican art and one of Kahlo’s most notable paintings and her first large-scale work: The Two Fridas (1939) with one Frida in European dress and the other in indigenous Mexican clothing. Other notable artists displayed are Ángel Zárraga, Gerardo Murillo (Dr Atl) and Roberto Montenegro.
Interior of the museum
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
The picturesque colonial silver-mining city of San Miguel de Allende is a three-hour drive north-west of Mexico City. Staying true to the area’s political heritage – the Mexican War of Independence began in 1810 in the nearby town of Dolores Hidalgo – it was in this town that Frida held many of her cultural and political gatherings, and even today remains a cultural hub.
Fabrica La Aurora, the beating heart of San Miguel de Allende’s artistic scene, is a former fabric factory now brimming with local artisans and their wonderful creations, including La Buhardilla, the antique shop of Carlos Noyola. In 2009 Noyola, an art and antiques dealer, claimed to possess a lost collection of Kahlo’s personal artefacts and paintings. The collection’s authenticity, comprising of 1,200 items, has since been surrounded by debate.
Fabrica La Aurora