Dresses that hid Frida Kahlo's pain come to light decades on

Fri Sep 28, 2012 4:33pm EDT
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By Manuel Carrillo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The colorful dresses of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo will go on display for the first time in November after being kept hidden from public view for 50 years at the request of her husband, acclaimed muralist Diego Rivera.

Curators of the Kahlo's "Blue House" in Mexico City discovered a trove of 300 dresses, bathing suits, accessories and photographs in 2004 and are now ready to show the public 22 items from the unique wardrobe that turned her into a fashion muse.

The exhibit explores Kahlo's fascination with Mexico's indigenous women and her penchant for richly embroidered ethnic frocks, flowery headpieces and ornate silver jewelry that earned her a photo shoot with Vogue magazine in 1937.

It also reveals how she chose clothes to hide her disfigurement after a bout of childhood polio that left one leg thinner than the other and a devastating bus accident that broke her spine in three places and left her in constant pain and scarred from subsequent surgeries.

"We must remember that Frida - like Diego - wanted the colors, the dress, the culture of Mexican women to be public and known," said Carlos Phillips, head of the museums that exhibit Kahlo and Rivera's work.

"They were attempting to rescue a people which had been abandoned. Mexican society dressed like Europeans. Those types of clothes weren't appreciated as much anymore," he said.

Kahlo and Rivera are two of Mexico's most celebrated figures, and their on-off stormy marriage was among the most prominent of the 20th century art world.

Kahlo, who died from pneumonia in 1954 at age 47, led a troubled life fraught with illness and tumultuous love affairs. A member of the Mexican Communist Party, she was a fierce supporter of the country's traditional culture.   Continued...

A restoration expert arranges the ruffles on a blouse that belonged to iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo at the "Blue House" in the neighborhood of Coyoacan in Mexico City September 27, 2012. REUTERS/Claudia Daut