V&A Frida Kahlo

The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has become a global icon, recognised as much for her distinctive style as her role as feminist and activist. For this exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the curators sought to present a more intimate view of her life, using hundreds of personal artefacts found in locked rooms at her former home, the Blue House in Mexico City. We collaborated with designers Tom Scutt and BOB Design to create a series of rooms that placed Kahlo’s personal possessions alongside her art. These offered a revised telling of her story, celebrating both her strength and her fragility.

Our role was the architectural realisation of the curators’ ideas, using the structure of the rooms to create pace, establish a particular mood or theme, and to present the artefacts to their best effect. A first room, lit with intense blue light, formed a threshold from the real world into Frida’s, with an inverted image of her that depicted a real person rather than an icon. The contextual gallery that followed was framed by a sequence of archways, formed of traditional Mexican geometric patterns but purified of any colour.

These culminated in a space that reimagined life at the Blue House, the focus on a pair of mannequins holding hands to recall Kahlo’s painting ‘The Two Fridas’, their richly coloured garments contrasting with the white scenography. The central gallery took the clinical trappings of Kahlo’s disabilities and spinal injury – braces, corsets, crutches – and placed them in a domestic setting. We measured the bed at the Blue House where she worked and slept, making cabinets in the same dimensions to hold her medical aids and make-up.

The spacious penultimate gallery was occupied by an army of Frida mannequins, dressed in her most beautiful and colourful Tehuana clothing and jewellery. We presented them in a display case modelled on a pre-Columbian podium at the Blue House, celebrating her home and garden, but also her deep allegiance to Mexican identity. The exhibition concluded with a mannequin clad in a traditional resplandor, or headdress, seen from the back and mirrored to herself.

Client: Victoria & Albert Museum Architect: Gibson Thornley 3D design: Tom Scutt 2D graphic design: BOB Design AV design: Luke Halls Studio and Ben & Max Ringham Lighting: DHA Designs Acoustics: Sandy Brown Associates Structural engineering: Webb Yates