Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up – Exhibition Visit

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Frida Kahlo in blue satin blouse, 1939, © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

The exhibition Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up is currently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and we recently took the chance to visit. This unique show gives a detailed overview of Kahlo’s life: her family and heritage; her politics; her relationship with mural painter Diego Rivera; the near-fatal accident that caused her a lifetime of pain; and most importantly, how she constructed her image and the way in which she lived her life.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Kahlo’s home in Mexico, La Casa Azul (The Blue House).

Upon Kahlo’s death in 1954, her husband Rivera locked up her most valuable possessions in the bathroom of the Casa Azul (The Blue House, their home in Mexico) and instructed that it not be opened until 15 years after her death. In 2004 this bathroom was opened, and the contents of the room went on display at the Casa Azul as a museum dedicated to her life. These objects are what now fill the exhibition space at the V&A, carefully shipped thousands of miles to be shown outside of Mexico for the first time.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Frida Kahlo and Family, 1926, photograph by Guillermo Kahlo.
Kahlo challenges gender stereotypes by wearing a suit.

The exhibition begins with old photographs of Kahlo and her family, some of which are adorned with Kahlo’s handwritten notes. Some simply label family members, whereas others are more personal: for example, on the back of Kahlo’s Communion photo she has scrawled “¡IDIOTA!” as she renounced Catholicism later in life.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Pre-columbian jade beads, possibly assembled by Frida Kahlo. Museo Frida Kahlo.

The show continues through a series of rooms to Kahlo’s accessories: heavy jade necklaces; crescent earrings featuring paired birds, which are traditional of Mexican jewellery; and hand-woven ‘Rebozo’ shawls and ‘Morrale’ sack bags. These items highlight Kahlo’s pride in her Mexican heritage.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Revlon nail varnishes, compact and lipstick in Kahlo’s favourite shade, ‘Everything’s Rosy’.

We then move on to Kahlo’s possessions, perhaps one of the most personal parts of the exhibition. Intimate items are on display such as used lipsticks and empty medicine bottles accompanied by letters to and from her various doctors.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo. Museo Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo’s suffering due to childhood polio and a car accident at the age of 18 lies at the foundation of some of these objects. For most of her life she wore uncomfortable corsets to help support her back and alleviate pain, some of which were made of plaster and decorated with painting as Kahlo used them like a canvas.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Left: Cotton Huipil with chain stitch embroidery, cotton skirt with printed floral motifs.
Right: Guatemalan cotton coat worn with Mazatec Huipil and plain floor-length skirt.

Finally, the main feature of the exhibition is a stunning display case of Kahlo’s clothing. Kahlo is renowned for her combinations of indigenous garments from different regions of Mexico, and she was photographed in such outfits many times. To see them up close in real life is breathtaking.

Detailed embroidery is present in most of the outfits, from complexly shaded flowers and birds to cross stitch to traditional Chinese embroidery (due to Kahlo’s fascination with Chinatown when she moved to the USA with Rivera). The exhibition gives details of her most striking outfits, describing how she was followed by children when in the USA, who asked “Where is the circus?”.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Self Portrait with Monkeys, 1943. Oil on Canvas, 81.5 x 63cm.

There are some of Kahlo’s paintings – mainly self portraits as she used herself as a subject when painting from her bed – but the exhibition mainly focuses on Kahlo’s items and how she presented the complex layers of her identity within her life. It states that her wardrobe was not staged: she dressed up even when she wasn’t expecting visitors, and even when she was in bed rest.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up - Exhibition Visit London Hand Embroidery

Frida Kahlo on the Bench, 1939. © Nickolas Murray Photo Archives.

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up is a bewitching and intimate exhibition. The items on display are fascinating, and through them the personal details of how Kahlo naturally lived an artistic life – despite her misfortunes and pain – are revealed. A must-see for anyone interested in textiles, and anyone interested in Frida Kahlo’s complex and inspiring life.

Purchase tickets at the V&A website here.

Written by Laura Hill

Hawthorne & Heaney, Mother Eagle and The London Embroidery School

Hawthorne & Heaney, Mother Eagle and The London Embroidery School London Hand Embroidery

As some of our regular readers may know, Hawthorne & Heaney has a sister company that teaches embroidery called the London Emroidery School. As the London Embroidery School we run classes at a range of time in specialised embroidery classes such as Tambour beading, goldwork and lace making.

Hawthorne & Heaney, Mother Eagle and The London Embroidery School London Hand Embroidery

Whenever the opportunity arises to get in a guest tutor, we love to an exciting textile artist in to teach one of their own designs, or a piece in their signature style. This October we have instagram sensation Mother Eagle, a.k.a. Katie Tume coming to teach a piece she has designed especially for us!

 

Hawthorne & Heaney, Mother Eagle and The London Embroidery School London Hand Embroidery

Katie’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, burial customs and the old Gods. She is currently working on projects around our disappearing natural world, and lost species which have become her signature style. ‘The Surreal Stitches with Mother Eagle Course’ combines Katie’s style and techniques. She has created this new artwork for the course, and refers to the artwork as ‘the Divine Mushroom’.

Hawthorne & Heaney, Mother Eagle and The London Embroidery School London Hand Embroidery

Booking is now available for this class where you will be learn this original artwork from the artist herself. Follow the link here for more details and to secure your place.

Hawthorne & Heaney, Mother Eagle and The London Embroidery School London Hand Embroidery

All images are courtesy of @mother_eagle_embroidery

Hawthorne & Heaney in Conversation with Laura Lees

Hawthorne & Heaney in Conversation with Laura Lees London Hand Embroidery

Fellow embroiderer, artist and designer Laura Lees is usually found creating highly colourful, fine art pieces furniture pieces but she took a little time away from her usual pursuits to speak with us about her work:

 

Hawthorne & Heaney: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, we’d like to start by asking you the question we get asked quite a lot of how did you get into embroidery originally?
 
Laura Lees: I applied for a city and guilds embroidery course when I was 17 and fell in love with it then. I found my skills at drawing not exceptional but confident. I found a new level of ability with the needle and thread superior than that of drawing with a pencil.
H&H: And what is it that inspires you?
LL: The way you can transform something from the ordinary to the extraordinary. I love the feel of the threads, the sound the scissors make when they’re cutting fabric, the quality of line and the battering noise and speed of my beloved Bernina industrial sewing machine. most importantly, I love the clarity of heart and mind, the skill involved and the the fact that i am always learning.

H&H: What would you like your students to take away from your class?

LL: A real sense of achievement, pride and enjoyment.

H&H: Where can we see more of your works?

LL: I am preparing for an exhibition to take place at the end of the year, inspired by dutch author Joris Luyendijk s book ‘Swimmimg with Sharks’ which demistifys the financial world of the city banks. This resonated deeply with me, having amongst many others lost my fashion label in the 2008 crash.  I explore the ‘smoke and mirrors’ architectural language of finance by descending on what must be the least understood environment in Europe: the City of London. Taking the habitat of the so-called and self-described Masters of the Universe as my inspiration and translating the visceral world that lives and survives by opacity into tangeable abstract textiles.

H&H: Anything coming up in the pipeline you can share with us?

LL: I have recently launched The Mighty Stitch corporate workshops, The Mighty Stitch embroidery workshops teach teams a new skill, engendering engagement and motivation, ultimately creating a bespoke embroidered piece of art for your workplace. • Simple, supportive instruction • No experience needed, anyone can take part
Participants are encouraged to be playful and experimental – the workshops facilitate collaboration, communication, storytelling, mindfulness, and, most importantly, making a mess! Enhanced work environment we all need a bit of that, i think .

H&H: Thanks again, I’m sure we will be seeing much more of you with all that come up!

 

Hawthorne & Heaney in Conversation with Laura Lees London Hand Embroidery

Laura also has a Workshop coming up in April which will give the participants the opportunity to be a part of Laura’s work as the pieces created on the day will be encorporated into a new piece which will be exhibited at the RIBA as part of the London Festival of Architecture. Follow the link to secure your place for this intriguing and unusual opportunity:

Hawthorne & Heaney in Conversation with Laura Lees London Hand Embroidery

‘The Riba workshop is a full day, immersed in urban embroidery.  We will focus on how a city evolves through its inhabitants by learning freehand machine embroidery, hand stitching and applique. The outcome is to create an embroidered image of a building or architectural structure.  

Afterwards, I will explore how a city is fabricated by stitching together the individual and diverse pieces made by workshop participants into a new work to be exhibited a the RIBA as part of @londonfestivalofarchitecture

All artwork will be returned to the participants after the exhibition.
This workshop is part of the programme of events inspired by the exhibition ‘Mies van der Rohe and James Stirling: Circling the Square’. 

Urban Tapestry with Laura Lees, 22 & 23 April, 11am to 4pm
RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London, W1B 1AD
Booking at architecture.com/Workshop

Hawthorne & Heaney in Conversation with Laura Lees London Hand Embroidery

All images credited to Laura Lees