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My Colourful Chemo Turban and Frida Kahlo

Wednesday, 7 November 2018 13:16:08 Europe/London

woman wearing chemo turban outside museum

Frida Kahlo may not necessarily agree with me, but I think we have so much in common: we both like dressing up, wearing headgear and can’t resist a selfie. Frida almost exclusively painted herself and occasionally included someone else. And she was also no stranger to pain.

Until recently, my physical suffering was self-inflicted through choosing to do triathlon and competing in endurance sporting events - the most recent one being IronMan Vichy in France, a week before my first of 8 chemo sessions. And painful it was!

In our Instagram era where we love to glimpse behind the doors, it is no wonder that an exhibition of a collection of Frida’s personal belongings is totally sold out. I was overjoyed when the V&A exhibition was extended, and we managed to secure tickets. I had seen her first exhibition outside of Mexico almost a decade ago, and was excited to see her works up close again.

As with all art, it finds you where you are at. Where before, I noticed her strength in her self-portraits - staring defiantly past her onlookers, political symbols expressing her view, I now noticed her pain. In The Broken Column, her shattered body and beautiful breasts are equally exposed, with tears streaming down her expressionless face, nails driven into her skin. Yet she is painted into a landscape, outside and free. ‘Appearances can be deceiving’, reads a quote from her.

The main focus of the exhibition, however, is not on her paintings, but on what her wardrobe, which had been kept locked up for over 40 years, revealed about her. She was strapped into corsets to support her broken spine, yet she wore her corsets as if she chose to. She incorporated them into her style, embracing her individuality, choosing not to be defined by her disability, but rather dancing with it, colouring it in with flowers in her hair. When she needed an artificial leg, it came with a red laced up boot, platform and wedge heel.

On the brink of chemo number 4, not wanting to let go of feeling well, enjoying the taste of food and wine, being able to go for a strong walk, I may just make Frida’s Tree of Hope my screensaver "There is a skeleton that flees in the face of my will to live." Here, by putting two Frida images together, one is a victim of her disease, the other is the heroic survivor.

Frida acknowledges, yet separates her suffering, holding the words ‘tree of hope, keep firm’.

In reality, Frida and I would never have been friends – her growing up in Mexico, me, in South Africa. She a communist, and me, Afrikaans, Protestant. Yet, over a generation, oceans and differences in belief systems, I stand in front of her self-portrait and thank her for sharing her suffering so colourfully that I am reminded that no pain can stop me from wearing flowers on my head.

Our thanks to Zelda our guest blogger this month - she is pictured wearing Gigi - a petrol blue turban, draped to create volume and height and inspired by the current Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V & A - Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up.  (Tickets are no longer available.)

 woman wearing chemo hat

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If you are experiencing hair loss you may not have to pay the VAT on some of our products. Headwear we have designed and manufactured specifically for hair loss wear is exempted. ‘Standard’ items of headwear such as scarves, brooches, some winter/summer hats by other designers, skincare are not eligible. They have not been ‘adapted’ for special wear. The ‘status’ of items will be displayed in your basket, before ordering, once a short health declaration is completed.

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