Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up
When the iconic artist Frida Kahlo died in 1954, age 47, her husband, muralist Diego Riviera did something for which we can all be grateful – he locked away many of her belongings in their Blue House on the outskirts of Mexico City for posterity. Discovered in 2004, more than 200 of these intimate items now make up the V&A’s major summer exhibition: ‘Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up’.
For the first time ever, this show pairs Kahlo’s dresses with her paintings to explore how the artist carefully shaped her distinctive identity through art, clothes and makeup after two major life events: her contraction of polio at the age of six, which left her disabled, and a near-fatal bus crash at 18, after which she was incapacitated for long periods.
Co-curated by Circe Henestrosa, head of the School of Fashion, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, and Claire Wilcox, the V&A’s senior curator of fashion, the retrospective features 22 of Kahlo’s signature Tehuana dresses, adopted as a glorification of all things indigenous, alongside one of her ebony eyebrow pencils, used to emphasise her trademark monobrow, and her favourite lipstick, Everything’s Rosy by Revlon.
These will be shown together with plaster corsets (which she had to wear to support her back) and her prosthetic leg (worn after she had her leg amputated in 1953), which she clad it in a bright red leather boot and adorned with bells, bows and pieces of silk embroidered with Chinese dragon motifs. Some of the curiosities are further housed in wooden structures, mimicking her sick bed, on the canopy of which her mother hung a mirror so she could draw her self-portraits.
An openly bisexual feminist, communist and Mexican nationalist, Kahlo successfully transformed her broken body, difficult life and turbulent marriage into a work of art – and that’s why she continues to inspire men and women, young and old, in such an unprecedented way to this day.
A Fine Figure
At long last, leading suffragist Millicent Fawcett takes her place among the male statues of Parliament Square
This February a peaceful and long overdue revolution is set to take place on London’s Parliament Square as the first commemorative statue of a woman takes its position among a multitude of males. A bronze casting of Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), the feminist and constitutional campaigner, will be unveiled, commemorating 100 years of women’s suffrage.
Perhaps a less well-known figure than say Emmeline Pankhurst, Fawcett defined herself as a suffragist and advocated peaceful and legal means as opposed to the more militant approach of the suffragettes, whose mantra was ‘deeds not words’. A key figure in the movement from the beginning to the end, Fawcett helped secure the voting rights of women of property over the age of 30 in the 1918 Representation of the People Act and continued to campaign tirelessly until women were given electoral equality with men in 1928.
The statue is the brainchild of activist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, who also successfully campaigned to feature Jane Austen on £10 bank notes. During a jog through Parliament Square in May 2016, she noticed that the 11 existing statues, Sir Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela amongst them, were exclusively male. Compelled to start a petition, she quickly attracted more than 84,000 signatures and high-profile supporters such as JK Rowling and Emma Watson.
The resulting commission was given to Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, who will become the first female artist to create a statue for the iconic London square. Her sculpture will portray Fawcett in 1897 at the age of 50, the year the non-violent National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies of which she was leader for more than 20 years, was founded.
Stood defiantly facing Parliament, the statue will show the suffragist holding a placard that reads ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’, a rallying cry from a speech Fawcett gave after the infamous death of campaigner Emily Wilding Davison at the Epsom Derby in 1913. In the spirit of inclusivity, the plinth will also name check 52 other suffrage campaigners (including a couple of men) who all pushed for votes for women.
Today, it’s strange to think that women once had no place in politics, yet out of 650 MPs elected in 2017 only 208 were female – and that was a record breaker. So while the statue of Fawcett is a celebration of how far we’ve come in the quest for equality, let it also be a reminder of how far we’ve yet to go.