The Fashion and Textile Museum is hosting the first-ever exhibition on the rebozo – the classic Mexican shawl made famous in 20th century culture by artist Frida Kahlo.
This exhibition explores the key role rebozos have played in promoting Mexican culture worldwide from the 17th century to the present day.
Rebozos lie at the heart of Mexican life and they are a part of every stage of the journey from birth through childhood, courtship, marriage, death and mourning.
They are huge pieces of fabric. Heavily patterned, brightly coloured – the variety in style amongst them tends to reflect the preferences of the local community which makes them – but all are finished with fringing from the simple to the heavily embellished.
The rebozos are made through traditional looms by artisans in regional communities using skills that have been passed down through the generations. As examples, the Museum has brought together an extraordinary collection of rebozos, some over 100 years old.
Historic rebozos from the Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City, have been reunited with impressive loans from the British Museum – garments from the Robert Everts Collection (Everts was an English diplomat in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century and he recognised their importance, making some impressive purchases).
The exhibition is very well curated, with this ubiquitous presence of rebozos across the social classes and through all stages in life really brought out through the use of photography and paintings from contemporary Mexican artists.
Artwork from greats such as Graciela Iturbide (who recently had a display at the Tate Modern), Pedro Diego Alarado and Fransico Toledo complement the garments superbly and reflect the rebozos in use throughout the Mexican community.
The Museum also commissioned works from popular contemporary Mexican fashion designers such as Carmen Rion and Carla Fernandez to present their response to the rebozo and these are also on display, along with a unique piece from Zandra Rhodes, the founder of the Museum.
Of course the most famous proponent of the rebozo, to Western eyes, was Frida Kahlo and she is well-represented at the exhibition. She wore the rebozo as a symbol of Mexican identity, a trend continued today by Lila Downs, the Grammy-award winning artist who also wears the traditional garment.
The Fashion and Textile Museum is the perfect venue for this exhibition as its building is the only one in Europe designed by award-winning Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. And internally, with its brightly coloured walls – pinks, yellows – it’s the perfect backdrop.
To create a rebozo is a labour-intensive process, and one which requires knowledge of traditional production methods. The Museum brings this out in great detail with details on the various stages such as winding, placing the threads, soaking and weaving.
Not only is this crucially informative but gives you such respect for the garments on show.
Sadly, with the advent of globalisation and the lack of support for traditional crafts, there are fears that the necessary skills to create rebozos will be lost. If the rebozo really is to survive and thrive as a symbol of Mexican identity, it will need support to do so.
Throughout the run of the exhibition, the museum is also hosting events on a variety of aspects of the subject matter, including a talk on Frida Kahlo and the rebozo, an evening of Mexican Festival mask making, and a workshop to create your own Day of the Dead appliqué shopping bag.
After this exhibition closes in London it travels to the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City, where it will open in Spring 2015.
Fashion and Textile Museum, London to August 31, 2014
Admission £8 (concessions available)
1. Frida Kahlo with Rebozo Toni Frissell, 1937 Part of a series published in US Vogue Photograph © The Frissell Collection, Library of Congress
2. Installation image from exhibition © Victoria Sadler
3. Installation image from exhibition © Victoria Sadler
4. Lila Downs, Grammy award-winning musician, wearing a rebozo de pluma from Ahuiran, Michoacán Antonio Turok, Summer 2013 Photograph © Antonio Turok
5. Installation image from exhibition – design by Carmen Rion © Victoria Sadler