Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving is the largest dedicated exhibition to Frida Kahlo in the United States in the last decade. The Brooklyn Museum's curation included several of her most iconic paintings, hundreds of personal items, and never before seen photos.

After Frida's death in 1954, her husband Diego Rivera ordered for two of the rooms in their house in Mexico, La Casa Azul, to be closed off with all of her clothing, photos, papers, beauty products, and other personal possessions. He planned on re-opening it in 15 years, but the rooms actually weren't rediscovered until 2004, when the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico opened and displayed all of the items.

The first room of the exhibit mainly included film photos from her childhood and early adult years when she met her husband and fellow artist, Diego Rivera. 

The first painting displayed in the exhibit was Self Portrait as a Tehuana which she completed in 1943. This painting is also known as Diego in my Thoughts and Thinking of Diego. In this portrait she is wearing a traditional Tehuana outfit with a miniature portrait of Diego on her forehead, symbolizing her obsessive thoughts of him despite his continuous betrayal of her.

As time went on, Frida took on more of a motherly role with Diego in their relationship, as shown in  The Love Embrace of  the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Senor Xolotl from 1949. In this painting, she portrays herself as a mother nature figure cradling Diego like the baby she always wanted but could never have. Around the time she painted this, in her journal she wrote, "At every moment he is my child, my child born every moment..."

When Frida was 18 she was in a horrible near-death bus accident in which she suffered many serious injuries, most of which she never fully recovered and suffered from for the rest of her life. One of these complications being that she was unable to have any children as a result of this accident. This had an extreme emotional impact on her and made her desire to be a mother an underlying theme in most of her artwork.

When Frida was recovering from the accident, she discovered her love for painting. She was confined to her bed for several months, so her parents made an easel that hung from the ceiling so she could paint through her recovery. "I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best," she once said regrading why she primarily paints self-portraits. 

It's hard for me to choose my favorite part of this exhibit, but I loved seeing Self Portrait with Monkeys from 1943. She kept many pets throughout her life, but many of her paintings include her beloved spider monkeys that lived in her garden. Monkeys are a recurring theme in many of Frida's paintings, mainly because she thought of them and took care of them as if they were her children, which is a similar theme to the previous painting I mentioned, as well as most of her other artwork.

The next room was filled with so many of her personal items from her home, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), where she lived for her entire life. The walls of this room in the exhibit were even painted to be the exact color of her real home. She collected many pieces of pottery made by local Mexican artists, as well as hundreds of small religious paintings that she hung on the wall of her home.

In this room was even more never-before-seen film photos of Frida outside of her La Casa Azul. The colors of these photos were so vibrant in person, especially for a photograph taken in the 1940s. It was really like nothing I have ever seen before - the photo I took of it doesn't do the vibrancy justice!

In one of the display cases was a book of poems by Walt Whitman, which she had for decades and was on her bedside table next to her when she died in 1954. There was also a rag doll Frida made of herself, which she kept on a shelf in her room for many years.

The next room had items that represented her many physical ailments. Some of the most interesting was 3 of her plaster corsets, which she wore for three months after her accident. She painted on each corset while she wore them and turned each one into pieces of art. Throughout the rest of her life she suffered from severe back pain and had over 35 surgeries to try to help it, but she never fully recovered.

The photo above shows a broken pillar, which is representative of her broken spine that caused her pain for the rest of her life. The design of the broken pillar is a very similar image included in her 1944 painting titled The Broken Column.

Two other back braces she used throughout her life were also on display. 

One aspect of Frida's life that is often glossed over in books and articles was that her right leg was partially amputated in 1954. She contracted a very serious infection in her leg due to complications from an unnecessary surgery. Instead of using the standard prosthetic leg from the hospital, she had one custom made with red boots embroidered with dragons and bells. She only lived with the prosthetic for a few months until she died later that year.

Two more pairs of shoes were also on display from before she had her leg amputation.

The next display case had her diary that she used from 1944 to 1954, when she died. This was another highlight of the exhibit for me because I actually have a copy of this diary that translates and analyzes every detail about each page. If you're interested in it you can check it out here on Amazon. The paintings in here are done in a much more spontaneous and somewhat messy style compared to her canvas paintings.

The page it was open to was an entry she made referring to her experience with having polio at the age of six and what it did to her body. She portrayed herself as a one-legged child falling into pieces. The words below her translate into "I am the disintegration". The column she's falling onto is another representation of her spinal injuries that she suffered from ever since her bus accident when she was 18. The broken column is a recurring image in her artwork, as mentioned previously. 

The last room was filled with about 20 of her own traditional Tehuana outfits and photos of her wearing each of them. This is actually the first time her clothing was ever on display in the U.S. so it was even more special to see it all! Her style was very distinct and a beautiful celebration of her Mexican heritage.

Along with her clothing, her personal beauty products were also on display throughout the room, such as her Revlon brow pencil, lipstick, nail file, nail polish, and more.

"She had a special skill for applying makeup and achieving a natural look, and spent a lot of time on this effect," said Olga Campos, her close friend. "She was always made-up and well dressed, even when she did not expect visitors." 

Her approach to makeup was to enhance her natural features, instead of trying to conceal them. She used mainly Revlon when it came to her makeup, in particular her go-to products were a black eyebrow pencil and a red lipstick in the shade "Everything's Rosy", which came with a matching nail polish at the time.

Fruits of the Earth was painted for her first exhibition in New York City in 1938. It depicts a bowl of fruit on her bedside table that resembles the cycle of life and death. The sky was once painted bright blue, but later she painted over it with darker colors to reflect her emotions at that time in her life. 

Self Portrait in Red and Gold Dress was painted in 1941 in Mexico. 

One of the final paintings in the exhibit was Self Portrait with Cropped Hair, from 1940. In this painting, Frida is seen in a masculine oversized suit and surrounded by strands of her hair. She painted this a few months after she divorced from her husband Diego. He loved her long hair and traditional Tehuana dresses, so she cut off all of her hair and started dressing in suits in order to reclaim her independence from Diego. The song lyrics at the top of the canvas translate to "See, if I loved you, it was for your hair, now you're bald, I don't love you anymore."

Frida Kahlo is one of my favorite artists, so it was amazing to be able to see all of this in person. Other than this exhibit I only ever saw two of her paintings in person, one at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and one at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Seeing a dedicated exhibit to her feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, because of how rarely her artwork is shown in the United States. It was really an unforgettable experience! Over the past decade her art has signifigntly grown in popularity around the world, so hopefully more retrospectives are done on her work in the future!

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving had a very limited run at the Brooklyn Museum and is unfortunately no longer on display, but hopefully it will be travelling elsewhere soon! If the exhibition comes to your area, I highly recommend checking it out!

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