Some blues are so blue that they’re hard to unsee. “That this blue exists makes my life a remarkable one, just to have seen it. To have seen such beautiful things. To find oneself placed in their midst. Choiceless,” writes Maggie Nelson in her love letter to the colour, Bluets. It’s this kind of blueness that you encounter at Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, in Mexico City, where the artist was born, lived for much of her life, and died. Taking a tour through the Casa Azul today, which now houses the Frida Kahlo Museum, you’ll find that those high walls house loud yellow floors and quiet, white lace bedcovers, too. When I was there, one of the curators described how the Surrealist André Breton, who took many photos of Kahlo, described the artist as “a bomb with a blue ribbon tied around her”.
The Blue House anchors the V&A’s Frida Kahlo exhibition in London, which is now in its final week – more specifically, the contents of a single locked bathroom in the Blue House, where, in 2004, Kahlo’s clothes, make-up, journals and accessories were discovered. These objects, which were still in their original packaging, had been locked away for 50 years following Kahlo’s death in 1954, according to the wishes of her husband Diego Rivera and later, Dolores Olmedo, his friend and patron. Fast forward to 2018, and the objects left Mexico for the first time ever this summer, for the V&A’s landmark show, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up.
Making Her Self Up might take Kahlo’s belongings far and away from the Blue House, but its personality remains in all of these objects: pre-Columbian necklaces as customised and strung by Kahlo herself; proudly Tehuanan embroidered blouses and skirts; the hand-painted medical corsets she had to wear to support her spine through her life; tender love letters. What’s more, Kahlo’s love of transforming herself through adornment, and her passion for fighting for self-determination for Mexican people, are expressed in the Blue House as much as in her belongings. Walking around the cool house, pre-Columbian sculptures smile at you from each corner, devotional paintings by local people known as ex-votos line the walls, and her favourite books and poetry are still nestled in the bookshelves. In the Blue House, it’s like you can feel Kahlo’s presence everywhere – and the V&A show, which you can still catch this week, is like one step onto that threshold.
Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up runs at the V&A, London, until November 18, 2018.