Frida Kahlo: intimate photographs show the artist in her element

Frida Kahlo: intimate photographs show the artist in her element

Fridamania in London continues at Michael Hoppen Gallery, in an exhibition of portraits of Frida Kahlo by other artists. Portraits of Kahlo shot during her lifetime by the likes of Imogen Cunningham and Lucienne Bloch are presented alongside more recent documentation of a collection of the artist’s belongings – hidden from the public after her death for 50 years – by the Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako.

Miyako, known for works that contemplate the construction of myth and memory from what we leave behind, was invited to photograph Kahlo’s personal relics by the Frida Kahlo Museum in 2013. Her works add another layer to the well-known story of Kahlo, a portrait through the late Mexican artist’s objects, that demonstrates how much the Kahlo effect still resonates.

Two pill bottles belonging to Frida Kahlo

Frida by Ishiuchi, by Miyako Ishiuchi

In Miyako’s photograph of an unfinished bottle of pills and empty medical bottle with a pipette once belonging to Kahlo, what you notice first is not the purpose of the items but their bright blue colour; a detail with a very Frida flair. Stacked pink lame shoes and her luxurious red leather leg (currently on display at the V&A) also cannot resist the vibrancy that emanates from anything Kahlo touched.

What’s intriguing about the images on show is the parallels is draws between Frida’s gaze and the way it is reflected back by others. In her last portrait, taken on her deathbed in 1954 by her friend, the Polish photographer Bernice Kolko, she looks wistfully back at the camera, a faint, serene smile on her lips. Though taken shortly before her death, Kahlo is still dressed in the traditional Mexican clothing and crown of flowers that she made iconic – seen in full colour in the 1939 portrait by Nickolas Muray that graced the cover of Vogue Paris.

Her life was short and filled with extreme hardship – but the way she presented herself, both in public and in private, was always defiant, bold and proud. ‘Frida: A Photographic Portrait’ becomes a self-portrait by other people, a mark of the indelible influence of Kahlo’s vision of herself and the world. §

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