They say the best way to meet an artist is through her work. I believe the same holds true for curators. My first encounter with Circe Henestrosa was not in person, but through her 2012 exhibition – Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo – in Mexico City, which I visited in 2013. It was simultaneously bold and reflective, thought-provoking and evocative. Much like Henestrosa herself, whom I officially met in Singapore two years later, wearing the hat of an educator at Lasalle College of the Arts, where she heads its School of Fashion.
Her lessons, far from frivolous, are framed by a panoramic perspective that embraces the nuances and complexity of real life. “When you’re working in fashion, you need to use a 360-degree lens,” she shares. “I want my students to use the eye of the historian, the anthropologist, the archaeologist and the fashion curator to compose the dialogue with fashion. They need to understand that fashion is about dealing with people, as well as garments and objects.”
Henestrosa is currently translating this philosophy into the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) upcoming blockbuster show, Frida Kahlo’s Wardrobe, set to open in London this June. “It will be very different from the exhibition in Mexico City, because not only are there more materials, but I am curating with Claire Wilcox, the V&A’s senior curator of fashion, and experts across disciplines, from conservators to a historian who specialises in Frida’s art exclusively,” she says. “Again, it’s using that 360-degree lens to create a full narrative.”
The Mexican-born curator began her career with the British Council in Mexico City, where she masterminded collaborations with artists, including Damien Hirst and Mona Hatoum, to generate dialogue between the two countries. Presenting fashion in the museum context, however, is closest to her heart. “It brings together everything I want to do,” she explains. “Garments are very powerful tools for social-cultural interpretation. They’re a young, cool and accessible medium that offers another way to tell how people used to live in a specific period of time. If you want to engage younger audiences, you need to speak their language.”