Barbie Gone Wild
Like most little girls growing up in the 70s, I played with Barbie. I dressed her up, combed her hair, walked her through a make-believe world of plastic wholesomeness.
But I also fashioned her garb made from cut-up dishcloths, butchered her hair and irrevokably marred her with “make-up” made from crushed wild berries (I was in my “stylist” stage). During my goth years, I dug her out of storage and pierced her with safety pins. This all came flooding back to memory when I discovered a kindred spirit in the artists contributing to the 2006 Altered Barbie Exhibition at Market Street Gallery. Experience the liberation (and/or mutilation) of Barbie through the eyes of more than 70 creators, ranging in age from pre-teen to sectarian, who have mined their gender-bending psyches for a new twist on the pre-feminist icon.
MSG’s guest curator Julie Anderson, who has produced the show for four consecutive years, has seen a lot of variations on the hour-glass figured muse. Some pieces are subtle commentary on gender idealization, some strut straight down the runway of political activism, avec attitude. There are chilling pieces that would make one lock up the scissors, and hide the family pet. Without a doubt, there were some issues worked through in the crafting of these!
My favorites? On the thought-provoking side, Pernilla Persson‘s artful photomontage Self Barbie; and on the whimsical end of the spectrum, Wendy Robinette‘s Peep Show #17, a well crafted assembly of vintage viewfinders sporting old-school backlit 3D images of nude Barbie posing languidly with her oh-so-mod vintage motorscooter. Please, oh PLEASE, go check these out!
In light of the butchered Barbies, it begs the question – is Barbie-bashing a universal reaction to gender expectations and stereotypes? A UK article reveals a study that examines the cross-cultural, cross-generational dissing of the icon. Meanwhile, the hour-glassed femme is the subject of social debate in Susan Stern’s Barbie Nation and has recently reermerged in pop-culture, via local filmmaker Tiffany Shlain’s short The Tribe.
So, feminine ideal, or symbol of social and cultural oppression? You decide. While you’re pondering it, head on over to the exhibit before it gets loaded up in Ken’s Malibu Beach Buggy and driven into the sunset.
* top left: Market Street Gallery exhibit flier / top right: Corinne Pickett, Barbie Spinomatic / bottom: Beth Allen, The Last Supper Barbie #2