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The Artist, the monobrow, the unique story

Photo and story by Hilary Hopker

Frida Kahlo – The Reel Store, Telegraph Hotel, Upper Well Street, Coventry until 29 January 2023.

Frida Kahlo is my art teacher’s favourite artist, but apart from that I know practically nothing about her. This multi-sensory immersive exhibition aims to bring Frida to life for fans and the uninitiated alike.

I’d never been to the Reel Store before, so it was fascinating to enter one of the newest art spaces in the city. Located in the basement of the old Coventry Evening Telegraph building I was given over to wondering if this space was where the old printing presses were. I mused to my friend that they must have been in the basement, because once I saw the presses in action, and also because the reels of paper needed to print the newspaper came in on the ground floor. That’s when the penny dropped on the name. The Reel Store is where they used to store the reels of paper needed to print the newspaper.

This space has been completely transformed. We entered into a bustling shop and café area where the staff told us that the exhibition was sold out so we needed to queue up for the next ‘showing’. The immersive experience is on a loop, so we happily joined the queue, although some of the visitors around us seemed quite taken aback at the thought of an art exhibition being this popular.

Eventually we shuffled into a long room with white walls and mirrors. Then the screening started. The walls came alive with pictures, photographs and animations, images of Frida and her artwork and audio comments from her and her friends.

My companion and I had seen ‘the Van Gough experience’ and it was very similar to that. The difference here was that Frida’s life rather than her art was centre stage. This is her personal diary retold. Of course, her artwork did feature heavily too. In her many portraits Frida sports her signature monobrow, bright Mexican inspired dresses, coloured flowers in her hair and a confrontational look that says ‘yes this is me, no - I don’t even want to fit in.’

The story covers Frida’s early beginnings and explains her iconic look is inspired by her dual German and Mexican heritage. Frida’s body is shattered in a train crash and, stuck in a plaster cast, she starts to paint lying down. The resulting injuries were to plague her for the rest of her life. Perhaps it was the knowledge that she was unlikely to live a long time that allowed Frida to look how she wanted, live how she wanted and paint what she wanted in her own way.

She falls in love with fellow artist Diego Rivera, but it’s a relationship that burns too bright right from the start. She marries him despite everyone’s warnings and sadly lives long enough to regret it. However, great art is rarely the product of a calm and happy life, so he probably did art history a favour.

The immersive exhibition leaves you wanting to find out more about Frida, so it’s great that there is a more traditional exhibition that follows where you can read more about her life.

The exhibition bills itself as for all ages, but it’s definitely got an adult flavour. There were two toddlers chasing virtual ribbons across the floor but it was a challenge to keep them engaged throughout. If you want to lose yourself in the story of an artist better famed for her looks than her work, then this exhibition is one for you.


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