Frida Kahlo’s U.S. Exhibit: “Appearances Can Be Deceiving”

“Frida Kahlo’s exhaustively documented crossover from artist to pop culture icon isn’t happenstance. The artist meticulously built her own image. A sweeping survey at the Brooklyn Museum examines how she did it, and why.” R. Kleinman, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Frida in New York City– by Nickolas Muray, 1946, printed 2006.

Excerpt: Frida Kahlo Was a Painter, a Brand Builder, a Survivor, And So Much More, By Rebecca Kleinman, The New York Times

“The painter meticulously crafted her own image on a par with Cleopatra…Now it’s America’s turn to see how, and, more important, why she did it. Some of the contents of the home she shared with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera — known as La Casa Azul (Blue House) in Mexico City — will be accessible for the first time in the United States in ‘Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,’ an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, from Feb. 8 to May 12.

Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States (1932)

Their belongings were to be locked away until 15 years after Rivera’s death, according to his instructions, but the task of unsealing and inventorying them didn’t happen until much later, in 2004. This is the biggest stateside show devoted to Kahlo and a considerably expanded iteration of last year’s exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London…Neither her disabilities from polio and a bus accident, nor her frequent relapses of pain deterred Kahlo.

A plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo, from Museo Frida Kahlo.

By the time she died at the age of 47 in 1954, she left behind a public persona that is still being mined well into the 21st century; today she has more than 800,000 Instagram followers. ‘People have an insatiable curiosity with her, and this presentation is a rare opportunity to see how she built her identity,’ said Catherine Morris, a senior curator at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art who organized the Brooklyn Museum’s version of the show with Lisa Small, senior curator of European Art.

The exhibition includes her daily beauty products such as Revlon’s Everything’s Rosy lipstick, 1944-54.

Viewing Kahlo’s beauty products brings to mind a child’s sense of wonder with a mother’s dressing table. There’s an aura in the presence of her actual things that you just can’t experience through media and Instagram, Ms. Morris said of Kahlo’s eyebrow pencil, Pond’s Dry Face Cream, and red lipstick and vibrant nail polishes from Revlon, a favorite brand.

‘A mastermind at using fashion to her advantage, Kahlo delivered red-carpet moments wherever she went. She even dressed that way to work in her studio,’  Ms. Small said. 

Cotton huipil with chain-stitch embroidery; cotton skirt with printed floral motifs. NYT

Vogue magazine took notice. Kahlo championed her homeland’s indigenous customs in wearing huipiles (woven tunics), rebozos (shawls) and flouncy, long skirts. They also drew attention away from her polio-ravaged right leg and body casts from several operations after her near-fatal bus accident. She frequently referred to herself as the great concealer.

Self-Portrait With Monkeys, 1943, oil on canvas.NYT

Besides its feminine allure, jewelry struck a more personal chord for Kahlo. Like her intricate updos embellished with hair ornaments and blossoms, chandelier earrings and bold necklaces drew onlookers’ focus to her face… Animals graced her work, and she had a mini-menagerie at La Casa Azul. There was a chaotic array of dogs — she adored the hairless variety of Xoloitzcuintli, an ancient breed — as well as monkeys, exotic birds and a deer named Granizo roaming about.

The hand earring that she wears in a couple of her portraits was given to her by Pablo Picasso.

Comfort with cross-dressing came early on… For ‘Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair,’ in 1940, with scissors and musical notes, she returns to men’s wear with a baggy suit like those worn by her ex-husband.  Shorn in spite, her cropped cut re-establishes her independence. ‘People are very interested in the fact that she had relationships with women, but there’s only one known reference where she actually spoke about it,’ Ms. Morris said.

Kahlo’s Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair

Kahlo suffered extensively for much of her life, and the most moving section of the show is devoted to her ecosystem of medical devices… Kahlo’s right leg was amputated the year before she died in 1954. People have described her as broken and fragile, but she was strong and accomplished a tremendous amount in her lifetime.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities 

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Frida Kahlo made a crossover from artist to pop culture icon.
  2. Her husband was the famous muralist Diego Rivera.
  3. Kahlo’s works were culled from the museum’s vault in London.
  4. Her disabilities from polio and a bus accident failed to deter Kahlo from her work.
  5. People have an insatiable curiosity with her.
  6. Her ethnic ensembles were inspired by Oaxaca’s Tehuana society.
  7. Besides its feminine allure, jewelry struck a more personal chord for Kahlo.
  8. In one gallery, the curators set out to re-create the vibe of Kahlo and Rivera’s home.
  9. Frida Kahlo owned a mini-menagerie.
  10. Kahlo was both dazzled and disgusted by New York City.

Grammar Focus: Identifying Prepositions

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.  For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

Prepositions:  in, for, of, with, by,  on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over,  through, from, during, up, off,

They were also another vehicle ___her___ express her passion___Mexican crafts including contemporary silver jewelry and native materials like jade, favored___ the ancient Maya. She most commonly wore gold rope necklaces and Mesoamerican jade stones, which she’d string ___extraordinarily chunky necklaces,

Reading Comprehension: True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. Frida Kahlo crafted her own image with that of  Nefertiti.
  2. She shared a home with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera.
  3. Two features Kahlo was known for were her beard and unibrow.
  4. Kahlo’s home La Casa Azul (Blue House) is located in Mexico City.
  5. The Frida Kahlo exhibit will be presented at  the Manhattan Museum.
  6. Frida Kahlo and her husband wanted to have many children.
  7. The last exhibit on Kahlo was held last year at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
  8. Frida’s mother taught her to be polite when she was young. NA
  9. Vogue magazine took notice of Frida Kahlo’s fashion style.
  10. Frida Kahlo had a mini-menagerie at La Casa Azul.

III. Post Reading Activities

Discussion Questions for Comprehension

  1. Why do you think the name of the exhibit is  Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving? 
  2. The article states that Viewing Kahlo’s beauty products brings to mind a child’s sense of wonder with a mother’s dressing table.” In your opinion are Frida’s beauty products an important part of the exhibit?  Why or why not?
  3. It is stated that Frida “frequently referred to herself as the great concealer.” Why was this?
  4. Write  three questions  you would like to ask Frida Kahlo or anyone else mentioned in the article. Share your questions with the class.


Art Projects

Directions: In groups have members view the paintings by Frida Kahlo.  Each group writes a paragraph or two explaining what they think the paintings mean; paint their own self-portraits using a mirror; paint a mural  that includes items that are important to them (e.g., their country’s flag, fashion, favorite personal items, etc.)