Isabelle de Borchgrave’s Miradas de Mujeres (Women’s Gaze) at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels is a magnificent installation inspired by her visit to Frida Kahlo’s home La Casa Azul in Mexico City. Isabelle’s work celebrates Frida Kahlo’s iconic colorful personal style, her panache for fashion, and her love of her home. Isabelle works with paper as her muse. Nearly everything in this exhibit is made from hand-painted paper and corrugated cardboard. Isabelle focused much of her attention on recreating Frida’s exquisite wardrobe inspired by the traditional Tehuana clothing of Mexico. Each vignette is akin to a stage set with dressed mannequins, plants such as aloe vera and cactuses and animals, decorative panels, and rugs. One includes a full-size armoire outfitted with clothes. Another vignette focused on interior decor such as one with a long dining table covered with fruit and yellow open hutches displaying pottery. Remember, this was all made from paper and corrugated cardboard.
One can watch videos from a circular room with a banquette fitted against the curve of the wall decorated with colorful toss pillows. At the center of this room hangs a beautiful white floral sculpture, and from this vantage point, we can see a cut out to the floor above with paper garlands of red roses, and a man dressed in a white suit wearing a sombrero. The exhibit continues with the theme of The Day of The Dead with red floral garlands, floating skeletons, and a bedazzled multi-tiered altar of skulls. I felt completely immersed in Isabelle's vision of Frida's inner world, and the art installation gives one an impression of being at La Casa Azul in Mexico City, if only for a fleeting moment.
This past September, I met with Isabelle de Borchgrave at her studio and home in Brussels. At this time, the paper sculptures for the exhibition Miradas de Mujeres were in her studio on the second floor and Isabelle and her assistants were getting everything ready for the museum. In addition to the paper sculptures, I saw a dollhouse-sized model of the exhibition and armoire outfitted with Frida’s clothes, a giant paintbrush hung above a long table with a lettering project in the works, a cart covered with vessels filled with paint brushes and paints, and another table covered with corrugated cardboard either awaiting to be cut or assembled. In other spaces, I saw Isabelle’s pleated paintings, furniture, gold paper jewelry in the shape of leaves, paper scarves, and cabinets with drawers arranged by color neatly displaying patterned paper. Her gallery on the ground floor leads into her home, where I saw glass table tops hand-painted with Lily pads, built-in china cabinets filled with porcelain, and in the garden, the stepped gabled roof of her home. I look forward to seeing what Isabelle dreams up next out of paper.
After Brussels, Miradas de Mujeres travels to Naples Art Institute in Naples, Florida, from March 4 through June 11, 2023.
Let’s get to know Isabelle better.
Did you purposely go to Frida Kahlo’s home to be inspired to create “Miradas de Mujeres”?
Absolutely, I was invited by the then director of the Frida Kahlo Museum to visit the Casa Azul as well as the room that Diego Riviera had condemned and told to open 50 years after the death of Frida. That’s where I was able to discover her dresses, objects and other paraphernalia, which I then recreated in the exhibition.
What was your favorite part of your visit to her home?
The garden and her kitchen are on the top of my list, but everything is beautiful so it’s hard to answer.
If you could ask Frida Kahlo a question or two what would you ask her?
Would she like the exhibition? Did I do justice to her and her world?
Could you imagine what her responses would be?
That she loves it of course.
What is your favorite Frida Kahlo painting?
Her paintings of fruits with Viva la Vida written in a watermelon.
How did paper become your muse?
Because I was poor, too poor to buy fancy linen etc. So I took the cheapest medium there was - paper. I soon discovered the versatility of paper and the immense possibilities it offered.
Why do you love fashion?
Because I love fabrics! I’ve always loved fabrics, patterns, and colors.
What do you like most about making art?
The freedom it gives me, the instant gratification it offers.
What does “La Día de Muertes” mean to you?
It’s a day of celebration, and that is what I like about it. Death is so gloomy so the idea of turning it in a celebration is what I like the most about it
How do you create your pleated paintings?
I paint them flat first. And because they are pleated afterwards, I need to ‘stretch’ out the shapes to find the proper proportion once the painting is pleated, it’s a kind of reverse anamorphism.
How do you know that the images will lay out in a visually cohesive way?
It took a lot of trial and error before knowing the right proportions I needed to apply to the painting so the final result was harmonious. It has happened in the past that I had to redo everything. But it’s always an excitement and joy to receive the paintings from the pleaters as we never really know what the final result will look like.
Do you have any suggestions for those pursuing a career in the arts?
Perseverance and hard work! Never give up.
What do you enjoy the most about living in Brussels?
My studio and working on new projects! I love the easy living we have here and people are very friendly.
If you had to limit yourself to paint only in one color in all its shades what would it be?
That would be my worst nightmare, but I would have to say black. You water it down and you have a thousand different shades from gray to sepia.
Where will “Miradas de Mujeres” go to after it has completed its tour?
No idea yet! But I would love for it to become a permanent exhibit in a foundation or museum in Mexico! So, if anyone’s interested give me a call.