When Frida Kahlo passed away in 1954, Diego Rivera transformed the bathroom of “The Blue House,” their eccentric home in Mexico City, into a shrine for his beloved wife. He filled the little room with the material fragments of Kahlo’s tumultuous life and, upon his own death, demanded that the special room be sealed until 15 years after he had gone. Rivera outlived his wife by only three years but it took other 50 until, in 2004, the administrators at their home, now called the Frida Kahlo Museum, finally opened the doors of Rivera’s devotedly curated memorial and invited celebrated photographer Ishiuchi Miyako and her 35mm Nikon to Mexico to catalogue and fossilize Kahlo’s memory.
Before embarking on the series, Frida, the photographer had little knowledge of the life, art, and tragedy of the artist when she arrived in the capitol, having immersed herself almost exclusively in the cultural history of her own country of Japan throughout her award-winning career. Nevertheless, as she steadily advanced through the 300 odds and ends of Kahlo’s dreamy wardrobe—both resolutely traditional and unapologetically eccentric—she came to know and love the artist. From the portrait of Kahlo’s cat-eye sunglasses, to her sweeping Tehuana dresses, ideal for concealing a body that had been wracked by polio in its youth, Ischiuchi’s series communicates “a particular awareness,” as the press release explains, “a tenderness that is inherent to a woman looking through another woman’s intimate possessions.”
“Frida is both a departure from Ischiuchi Miyako’s normal practice and a natural conceptual progression,” it adds. “While moving away from the Japanese subject matter of her earlier series, the work reveals Ishiuchi Miyako’s continued obsession with the traces we leave behind both as individuals and as a society.” In each photograph, Ischiuchi arranges the object to best reveal its use, significance, color, or design: Kahlo’s fiery, prosthetic leg appears mid-stride and the uneven wear on her pink heels illustrates a painful gait. Together, the minimalistic images exposes the particular vision of both artists in a touching, composite portrait of a globally recognized visionary.
Frida will be on display at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London until July 7th. Check out some of the photographs below: