The photographer who captured the defiant beauty of Frida Kahlo’s closet

The photographer who captured the defiant beauty of Frida Kahlo’s closet

When the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo died in 1954, aged just 47, her husband Diego Riviera began storing her clothes, accessories and other personal effects in a bathroom in their Mexico City home. Riviera gave instructions that the room remain sealed until 15 years after his death.

The couple’s Blue House, as it was known, became the Frida Kahlo Museum after Riviera’s death in 1957. The bathroom, however, remained sealed until 2004. When it was opened, 300 pieces of Kahlo-related relics were found inside.

The museum began to catalogue the haul but they also decided to invite the Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako to document them. Miyako’s work has often concentrated on the material traces we leave behind, investigating their personal and social weight. And Miyako’s Kahlo photographs, which go on display at London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery this week, prove how astute the museum was in its commission.

Frida Kahlo the icon was perhaps the greatest creation of Frida Kahlo the artist. But much of her personal style, particularly the traditional Tehuantepec dresses, were designed to hide disfigurement and loss. Having contracted polio as a child and then been involved in a serious bus accident at 18, Kahlo underwent surgery 40 times during her relatively short life. And the more suffering her body took, the more elaborate the decoration and costume became.

Miyako photographs Kahlo’s corsets, sunglasses, nail varnish and faded swimming costume. She photographs the embroidery and embellishment and the still vibrant colours. 

Kahlo’s leg was amputated the year before she died and perhaps the most remarkable of Miyako’s photographs is of Kahlo’s prosthetic leg, complete with a boot covered with Chinese embroidery. It is defiantly beautiful.

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