Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World

Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World

ArtScience Museum

May 1, 2024
Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World
May 4–September 1, 2024
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ArtScience Museum, Singapore presents Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World

Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World reveals an intimate portrait of Frida Kahlo, examining her life and work through the prism of her medical history. Marking the 70th anniversary of her passing, this exhibition celebrates the extraordinary artist who translated a lifetime of chronic pain into her art-making. Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World reveals the woman behind the present-day cultural icon—a story that weaves together the fragility of the human condition and the resilience of the human spirit.

The exhibition focuses on the last few years of Kahlo’s life, delving into a curated collection of Kahlo’s medical records, surgical reports, and photographs from her time at the American British Cowdray Hospital—where Kahlo underwent multiple spinal surgeries, an amputation of her lower right limb and received continued care up until her passing in 1954. Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World features exclusive interviews with Cristina Kahlo Alcalá—great-niece of the artist—in which she speaks candidly of Kahlo’s medical conditions. Additionally, interviews with medical experts based in Singapore—including orthopaedic surgeons, an anaesthetist and a clinical psychologist—provide insights into Kahlo’s medical history, discussing the kinds of physical and mental challenges Kahlo could have experienced.

In 1925, on the way home from school, a streetcar crashed into the bus Kahlo was riding. This near-fatal accident left her with displaced and fractured vertebrae, a broken pelvis, 11 fractures in her right foot, a dislocated elbow and a serious puncture wound in her abdomen. Following the accident, Kahlo was regularly in and out of hospital—undergoing at least 22 surgeries. In her painting titled The Broken Column (1944), Kahlo depicts nails piercing her entire body, and presents her spine as a precariously fractured stone column. It is regarded as one of Kahlo’s most visceral depictions of her chronic pain. Two years later, after being bedridden for months due to severe spinal pain, Kahlo agreed to undergo spinal fusion surgery that involved fusing four vertebrae together, grafting bone from her pelvis to her spine and inserting a 15-centimetre metal plate. As a consequence of this traumatic operation, Kahlo painted Tree of Hope, Remain Strong (1946), depicting herself lying on a hospital bed, bleeding from surgical incisions.

“I don’t paint dreams, I paint my own reality” —Frida Kahlo.

The figures in Kahlo’s self-portraits were not fictional characters but expressions of her lived experience. Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World looks beyond Kahlo’s artistic interpretations, presenting Kahlo’s fragmented body, and her medical equipment, in an unfiltered light. A life-sized scanographic artwork, by British-born contemporary artist Katerina Jebb, depicts Kahlo’s white medical corset, while an X-ray of Kahlo’s spine showing the screws and metal plate in her lower back is presented nearby. These corporeal objects, that resonate with the aura of a life lived, highlight the reality of Kahlo’s pain—and to some extent the joy—that comes with the fragile beauty of the human condition.

The narrative of Kahlo’s medical conditions anchors this exhibition, alongside an exploration into Kahlo’s relationship with her doctors, a glimpse into her personal diary entries, and a rumination on her intimate spaces of recovery. Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World carries a message of hope in the face of adversity.

Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World is curated and produced by ArtScience Museum with the support of Cristina Kahlo Alcalá and Circe Henestrosa. More information can be found here

Laid Bare: Frida’s Inner World is part of Frida Forever, ArtScience Museum’s season of exhibitions and programmes centered around Frida Kahlo, anchored by Frida Kahlo: The Life of an Icon—an immersive biographical exhibition that celebrates the life of Kahlo through interactive installations, cutting edge technologies, 360-degree projections, and costumes. More information can be found here. 

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May 1, 2024

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