Soft materials, hard topics: a sneak peak into Frida Kahlo’s life

Have you always wondered what Frida Kahlo’s life was really like? Together with New Master and textile artist Sam Druant we wandered through the exhibition Miradas de Mujeres at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels. Artist Isabelle de Borchgrave gives us a sneak peek into Frida Kahlo’s life by recreating her Casa Azul (Blue House). Surrounded by the joyful universe made of four kilometres of paper, we talk about daily realities, the woman’s perspective and Frida’s everlasting impact on the world.

Interview by Sacha Celine Verheij
Photos shot by Luciana Schütz

How did you experience the exhibition? 

It feels like you step into Frida Kahlo’s home. If you look closely, you can see the details the artist has put into the work. The patterns on the dresses, the colours of the fruits in the kitchen and the fragile folds in the paper draw your attention. It amazes me how joyful everything is because her life was far from rose-coloured. Yet every particle of this exhibition is colourful: from the clothes to the furniture, from the plants to the window frames. You can even hear nature and the birds singing. It makes me happy!

It amazes me how joyful everything is because her life was far from rose-coloured

I noticed that your work is also colourful. Can you tell me what your work entails? 

In my work, I play with different textile techniques, such as tufting, weaving, knitting and embroidery. My work is soft and very colourful indeed, but there is always an underlying layer of irony which can have darker undertones. Through soft materials, I talk about hard topics such as inequality. For example, my latest work is about biking home and having this feeling of unease. I want people to be aware of that. 

The title of the exhibition is called Miradas de Mujeres, the Woman’s Gaze. How does the woman’s gaze play a role in your work?  

My experience of the world as a woman shines through my work. Frida Kahlo paved the way. Despite her hardships, she kept on painting, dressing colourful and telling her narrative of what it means to be a woman. As I do as well with my latest work about biking home, I address experiences that women face, unlike men. In conversation with other women, many told me that they have the same feeling when biking home alone late at night.

What is it like to be a textile artist as a woman? 

I feel like male textile artists don’t have to legitimise why they work with the textile medium. While for a woman it is almost often a statement because we have to fight the connotation of the household. It is not a hobby, what I do is work. I wonder if textiles will ever not be gendered.

I wonder if textiles will ever not be gendered

Would you call yourself a feminist artist? 

I would call myself a feminist. I don’t want to call myself a feminist artist, because then you place yourself in a box. Not all my work will be feminist, sometimes I just make something.

In the end, I want to create a more just world through my art, just like Frida did

You, Frida Kahlo and Isabelle de Borchgrave not only share your womanhood but also your love of fabric, patterns and colours. How do you relate your work to this exhibition?

The way daily life is portrayed here. What I mostly enjoyed is seeing the clothing. How Frida Kahlo dressed herself is pictured from her own female gaze. It’s in a non-sexualizing way. Mundane realities like these inspire my work: sitting in a restaurant hearing my friends’ stories, reading a fantasy book, everything around me can be a source of inspiration. In the end, I want to create a more just world through my art, just like Frida did.

We went through almost every corner of her iconic house, made entirely of paper. Would you recommend this exhibition to anyone? 

Yes! It’s cool to learn about Frida Kahlo in a different way than through her paintings or documentaries. The craftsmanship that went into the process of making each element of her house from paper is mind-blowing. On top of that, the whole colourful exhibition leaves you with a joyful feeling and inspiring optimism to take home. The bitter fate Frida Kahlo’s life painted stands in stark contrast with the joyous images of her life you encounter here.

Interview for Different Class (formerly known as Subbacultcha Belgium):

Miradas de Mujeres
Until 12/02 – Royal Museum of Fine Arts Belgium, Brussels
Explore the exhibition for free as a Subba-member

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