For a plastic doll, Barbie can be polarizing. Emiliano Paolini and Marianela Perelli discovered this recently when their exhibit “Barbie: The Plastic Religion” at POPA gallery in Buenos Aires was cancelled. “Given repeated anonymous threats concerning the event, the artists decided not to exhibit his work, fearing for the physical safety of visitors,” a notice on the gallery’s website announced.
The 33 pieces in the controversial collection are each one-of-a-kind, and they include Barbie dolls as the Virgin Mary; Joan of Arc; Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction; and the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico. Ken becomes Christ on the cross, Buddha, Moses, St. Sebastian and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The sculptures represent figures from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Argentine folk religion. The Muslim prophet Muhammad is not included in the series—the artists told Reuters that since Islam prohibits the creation of his image they omitted him out of respect.
Questions of taste and faith have been raised by Argentine Catholic Priests, Italian Bishops, and Hindu Clerics, much to the surprise of the artists. “We have a sanctuary in the kitchen that has more saints than the Vatican,” Paolini told the Associated Press. Some have accused the artists of grandstanding—disrespecting religion in order to gain notoriety. They disagree.
“The true message of our work was mutilated by magazines and television. That’s a shame. The media is killing our art.” (Source)
The sculpted dolls are additional portrayals in the canon of religious iconography, weighted down with the 55-year legacy of a plastic girl and her boyfriend.
For the artist Annette Thas, Barbie is a disturbingly bittersweet symbol of childhood nostalgia and longing; for installation piece “Wave I,” she uses between 3,000 and 5,000 barbie dolls to build a sculptural wave, re-appropriating the doll as a means of translating her earliest memories, scenes which now flood her after returning to Belgium to care for her ill sister. Her sister’s illness, she explains, was related to the childhood they shared, one that was marked in part by the death of her brother.
For the artist, the wave is meant to convey her own relationship to overwhelming memories; it is 4 meters wide and stands at 3 meters tall, forcing viewers to be encased completely within its depths. The piece seems to swell with cascading blond hair, forever caught at the terrifying moment before its breaking. Adding to its realism, Thas chose to exhibit it on the beach as part of 2014’s Sculpture by the Sea amidst the sounds and smells of real waves.
The barbies in the piece, wild hair tangled and stripped of their clothing, do indeed seem ominous, but they are also startlingly sympathetic. They are second-hand toys, once loved but eventually discarded. They have endured a sort of violence, having been scarred by knives and bite marks. Each one has a poignant narrative all her own; one doll simply bears the words “please love me” on her chest. The plastic toys, symbolic of the scores of children who once owned them, are somehow lonesome now, robbed of childhood’s affections. Their demanding presence is urgent and desperate, their blue eyed faces pressing us to remember both the magical and painful bits of our youths. (via Design Boom)
In deconstructing Barbie dolls and repurposing them as jewelry for “Plastic Bodies Series,” the designer Margaux Lange forces us to enter an uncomfortable space between disgust and worship of the iconic toy. Barbie, who has been a target of the last decades’ feminist debate, occupies an ambiguous role in the social and sexual development of girls; she exudes sexuality with her adult figure, but she also remains virginal, never revealing her nipples or genitalia.
Lange’s work powerfully evokes the girlhood tension between reverence and anger felt towards the doll and its conflicting representation of female eroticism. At its most practical, the art is a function of style; elevated to the status of precious jewels, Barbie’s eyes and breasts inspire nostalgia and desire. Yet the doll is so clearly dismembered, and therefore violently objectified, and her selfhood becomes reduced to a series of nearly identical body parts, arranged for your consumption.
Arguably, the most compelling of the works include Barbie’s male companion doll Ken. Although the dolls often serve as play actors for a child’s early exploration of sexual desire and experience, their plastic forms obscure and confuse concepts of intimacy. In isolating the dolls’ features, Lange is able to express more clearly-seen longings within the previously sterile dolls; they become fixated between metal filigrees, robbed of their eyes but permanently in contact with one another. In use, the relationship between the owner and the doll also reaches new levels of fetishistic fascination. In one pair of earrings, doll hands reach out to touch the curve of the human neck; a necklace allows a tiny pair of metal lungs, filled with the breath of Barbie and Ken, to lay atop the wearer’s own chest. Take a look. (via Margaux Lange and BUST)