When Frida Kahlo wasn’t breaking ground as a leading member of the Mexican avant garde art movement, she was sleeping with Trotsky, befriending Picasso and entrancing the world with her androgynous charisma. Her life was every bit as earthily sexual as her paintings: one of the first artists to have a reputation that truly preceded them, she came to embody a kind of bohemian ideal, a life given over to passion, freedom and expression.
A new exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery offers a unique insight into the quiet corners of a life remembered for reverberant painting and headline-grabbing affairs. When the Museo Frida Kahlo decided to catalogue and order its contents, it invited Ishiuchi Miyako to photograph 300 unseen relics of Kahlo’s life.
The project represents both a departure and progress for the Japanese photographer. For her “Mothers” and “Hiroshima” series, Miyako told personal histories through objects and clothing, the carefully chosen ephemera offering a more intimate insight into individual subjects than any history book ever could.
The same is true of the pictures in this exhibition. Polio and a serious car accident left the young Frida Kahlo severely incapacitated. Clothes became an armour and a sanctuary as she disguised her disabilities behind bright, elaborately embroidered dresses. Kahlo’s clothes were an outward expression of the passion that ruled her. More than any other 20th century painter, she wore her art on her sleeve.
Frida by Ishiuchi Miyako is at Michael Hoppen gallery London SW3, from tomorrow till 12 July