The Mexican look is for Frida Kahlo part political statement, practical solution and cultural staging. Choosing to wear gaudy clothes from the Tehuantepec peninsula in Mexico, she expresses her solidarity with the oppressed population, which suffered first under Spanish colonial rule and then under dictatorship. And the light Tehuana dresses are comfortable and can camouflage Kahlo's ailing body.
After the Mexican Revolution, Tehuana women come to represent the strong Mexican woman with which Kahlo identifies – and which Rivera prefers. This way she creates her own style, staging her femininity and stressing her cultural identity, while celebrating the Mexican cultural heritage.
A large collection of photographs shows how Kahlo loved to model for the top photographers of her day, wearing her extravagant jewellery and opulent dresses. Her singular charisma shines through in every photograph, as she self-consciously and vainly poses for her photographer – and observer. In several diary entries, Kahlo describes herself as La Gran Ocultadora, The Great Concealer. The photographers all strive to reveal her ambiguity, but the woman in the iconic images remains enigmatic.
In the late 1930s, Kahlo is well on her way to becoming a celebrity in the United States. The fashion magazine Vogue devotes an article to her in October 1937, including a sensual pictorial of her modelling, and another, in November 1938.
The two magazines are on display in the exhibition, and you can leaf through selected pages here: