Saturday, May 30, 2015


I made the briefest of visits to this exhibit at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in West London. I arrived with great expectations and left rather bemused at the minimalism of the presentation. The text on the gallery's website is far more revealing than anything in the gallery: no brochure, no captions, no supporting materials were to be seen for Ishiuchi Miyako's documentation of Frida Kahlo's personal belongings, long stored in a bathroom at the painter's home.

The photos could be similarly brushed aside, shorn of their context. But, if you do know anything of Kahlo's extraordinary life, the photos do reveal some stark realities, tenderly realised. The vivid dresses. The chic sunglasses. And the shoes. One image stuck with me, but I can find no reproduction of it: two shoes shot from behind. Bright red. And then one notices that one has a much higher heel, stacked, than the other. These were shoes that must have been custom-made for the artist, to compensate for one of her legs being shorter than the other. I stopped short and stared at this image, struck by its poignancy.

The other notable images include hammer and sickles that seem to have been hand-drawn on her corsets, often sewn into her dresses. To me, these speak of a defiance and a sense of humour: often confined to her bed, Kahlo made her mark on her immediate surroundings and dressed for the stage beyond them. Even her clothes were a canvas.

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