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Frida Kahlo’s Closet Finally Opened for the World

After Frida Kahlo died, her eccentric husband, the painter Diego Rivera, refused to let anyone open her closet. Now, finally, Frida's closet is on display for the world

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In 1954, the painter Frida Kahlo died. When she did, her eccentric husband Diego Rivera—a famous painter in his own right—refused to let anyone open her closet. When he died, the couple’s patron, Dolores Olmedo, was put in charge of keeping the closet sealed. She did until 2002. Now, finally, Frida’s closet is on display for the world at the Frida Kahlo Museum on Mexico City. ABC News reports:

Eventually, museum personnel decided it was time to look inside. And what a discovery. Art historians and fashionistas already knew Frida was unique and ahead of her time. But, what the items in the exhibit show are that despite the disabilities, the monobrow, and the violent depictions of the female anatomy in some of her paintings, Frida Kahlo was a bit of a girlie girl who wore makeup, used perfume and dressed up her prosthetic leg with a red high-heeled boot. Her clothing aimed for style and self-protection but it also made a statement, both political and cultural.

The dresses that Kahlo was famous for—called Thuana dresses—are featured prominently in the collection. The PBS series “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo” mentions them specifically:

No matter whether she was in Paris, New York or Coyoacán, she clothed herself elaborately in the Tehuana costumes of Indian maidens. As much as Frida’s country defined her, so, too, did her husband, the celebrated muralist, Diego Rivera. If Mexico was her parent, then Rivera – 20 years her senior – was her “big-child.” She often referred to him as her baby. She met him while still a schoolgirl and later, in 1929, became the third wife of a man who gaily accepted the diagnosis of his doctor that he was “unfit for monogamy.”

They were important to Kahlo, as they are to the museum curators like Circe Henestrosa today. She told USA TODAY, “This dress symbolizes a powerful woman. She wants to portray her Mexicanidad, or her political convictions, and it’s a dress that at the same time helps her distinguish herself as a female artist of the 40s. It’s a dress that helps her disguise physical imperfections.”

And the closet didn’t just have clothes in it either. The collection includes nail polish, medicine, jewelry and shoes. The curators plan on cycling through the whole collection over the course of five months, to show all the items.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Frida Kahlo

The Real Frida Kahlo

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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