Frida Kahlo: Viva la Vida!, VAULT Festival

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by Bryony Rae Taylor

So many of us are guilty of idolising women without investing in their stories. Frida Kahlo’s memory is probably one of the most exploited in the art world. She’s on rucksacks; she’s on pencil cases; she’s perpetually immortalised on cotton tote bags. But how many of us have genuinely spent time learning about her? Maybe that’s too cynical, but the phrase ‘I love Frida Kahlo!’ has fallen out of my mouth on so many occasions when, actually, what do I know? Probably not enough.

In just over an hour, Gaêl Lecornec concisely presents a potted history of Frida Kahlo. It takes place on the Day of the Dead, and Frida is celebrating her life and death. Lecornec embodies, rather than portrays, Frida. She has a quietly sparking aura and connects with every audience member. She assumes that we know nothing about Kahlo, but bit by bit, she uncovers Frida’s life. She reveals how she lived in pain after an awful accident, and a childhood bout of polio. A lot of it is common knowledge, but Lecornec’s playful delivery is delightful to watch.

Kahlo’s relationship with Diego Rivera is frequently explored. He sounds like a bit of a knob (he slept with Frida’s sister) but their tale of tumultuous passion is effectively captured. She whips out lavishly decorated skulls to depict some of her other lovers, including Trotsky. Various audience members are chosen to ‘look after’ the skulls, sitting on their knee, but not before asking, “DO YOU CONSENT’?” with a gorgeous twinkle in her eye.

For a short show, a ton of biographical ground is covered but it’s never to the detriment of the piece. Emotions are delicately balanced throughout, and Lecornec gives a taste of Frida that’s like peering through a crack in the door. There’s so much to learn about the artist, and the show whets a thirst for knowledge without tackling too much in a short space of time.

Frida Kahlo: Viva la Vida! runs through 29 February.

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