When Japanese photographer Isiuchi Miyako travelled to the Blue House in Mexico City she knew very little about Frida Kahlo, whose intimate objects she was about to photograph. Miyako was invited to portrait Kahlo’s belongings, which, according to Diego Rivera’s instructions, had been sitting, sealed, in a spare bathroom of Casa Azul for fifteen years after his death.

Hidden in the Blue House, where Kahlo was born, painted and died, the artist’s colourful garments and accessories preserved the traces of the woman’s body: her shape where the fabrics are stretched, her hair still trapped in a comb, the testimony of an extraordinary struggle.

Miyako is known for her poignant work on collective memory. In her earlier series Mother’s (2000-2005) and ひろしま/ Hiroshima (2007-) she portrayed post-war Japan through pictures of worn clothes and personal possessions, respectively of her late mother and of Hiroshima victims.

In Frida, currently exhibited at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London, Miyako veers away from her usual Japanese subject matter, and yet looks at the Mexican artist with the same sheer intensity and aesthetic stance. Miyako speaks of individuals by spotting their traces, by moving among the things they touched, used and inhabited; she gets to know her subjects via their absence and what they’ve left behind.

©Isiuchi Miyako Frida by Isiuchi#23

©Isiuchi Miyako Frida by Isiuchi#23

“If I met her”, Miyako said of Kahlo, “I wouldn’t ask any questions. I would only want to stare at her and touch her body.” Miyako’s photographs of Frida’s things are stark and simple, shot in natural light with a 35mm Nikon. They seem to make full space for Kahlo’s gigantic personality, the way she converted the struggle into a performance of her love for life; Miyako’s pictures of ordinary and extraordinary objects are all but decorative, never indulgent or glamorous.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was impaired and had dealt with chronic pain throughout her entire life. After contracting polio as a child, in 1925 she was almost killed in a spectacular bus accident. Frida never fully recovered and went through surgery a number of times, eventually having her leg amputated in 1953.

© Isiuchi Miyako Frida by Isiuchi#36

© Isiuchi Miyako Frida by Isiuchi#36

The painter is known for an iconic, imaginative style, heavily influenced by the Mexican tradition and at the same time utterly eccentric. Many of the 300 items in the collection, like the hoop earrings or the traditional Tehuana dresses, appear in numerous paintings and photographs, in her diaries and letters; others constitute a beguiling and moving insight into her private life, one which Miyako interpreted with masterful fondness. We can look at Kahlo’s orthopaedic corsets, at her uneven pink shoes: they are beautifully customised, as is the prosthetic red leg that Frida decorated with a tenacious attention for details, and which culminates in a gorgeous boot.

Kahlo conspired with the objects connected to her pain, to the pieces that were supposed to be merely disguising an injured body. She made them part of her vitalistic struggle, incorporated into a larger conception of beauty, meaning and resilience.

Miyako’s dialogue with those object, their worn carnality, and with the visionary woman who wore them, unveils with clarity, it’s ultimately inspiring.

Serena Braida

 

Cover image: ©Isiuchi Miyako, Frida by Isiuchi

 

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