Barbie is an iconic figure that seems to cast debate around the ideals of what a woman should look like. We all know that her proportions are, in-fact, impossible to achieve in real life (unless one gets extreme surgery). But is it really such a big deal? My mum can have some feminist tendencies, and growing up was not all too keen on me having barbies. However, at some point I acquired a few (to which I mainly played hairdresser – with devastating results) and sincerely believe they did me no harm. As a child, I never recall thinking about her figure or whether I desired to look like that when I grew up. She never made me want to dye my hair blonde or wish I was tanned. But, perhaps that was just me. Because somewhere along the line a lot of people started hating poor old Barbie, which leads me to these three pieces of art shown below.
I’m not sure who the artist is, but they are clearly juxtaposing the ideas of plastic and flesh. The plastic doll-ness is made clear through Barbie’s recognisable face and the unnatural, but distinctive, Barbie joints. The general painting style is not overly refined, in that the paint work is very visible. One might think that a glossy, sheeny ‘perfect’ finish might be more appropriate, but the point seems not to be to realistically portray Barbie. Instead, we have a mutilated portrayal of Barbie, made blissful by the sheer fact of its own impossibility. Barbie is plastic and we know that when we harm plastic we will not reveal muscle and bone and organs. And yet, here, we have this exact effect. The artist refuses to go into too much detail of the inside(s) of Barbie but simply uses painterly looseness to suggest such a thing. I think this works perfectly as it leaves a raw, confrontational nature to the pieces. I would argue that had we had the ‘glossy’ Barbie I spoke of earlier that the whole nature would move into a pop art, dark humor type genre and be more of a light-hearted laugh than a serious and somewhat disturbing series. Can we really feel for what we know is an inanimate plastic clone when shown to have been brutally murdered? Are these pieces just simple irony? Or are they (almost predictably) challenging ideals of beauty and ‘fakeness’? To me, I get a more sombre vibe. The irony for me is that we can feel sadness for the destruction of something that could never feel to begin with. What do you think? What is it that you see in these pieces?