Barbie is Officially Under Water

Surrounded on four walls by paintings, each at least 60′ x 60′, the sensation of floating just beneath the cool aquamarine surface of a backyard pool is acute. Floating with Barbie, that is.

Such was the feeling I had Saturday night on entering Koplin Del Rio gallery for the opening of “Drown the Dolls,” an exhibition of paintings and photographs by Los Angeles-based artist Daena Title. Said Sugar Brown, one of the gallery’s owners:

Every woman has a relationship with Barbie. We either loved Barbie, hated Barbie or didn’t understand her.

Whatever your relationship to the 52-year-old doll, “Drown the Dolls” will hold some meaning. After a week of posts and declarations about drowning Barbie here on the Ms. Blog, seeing the show up close (in the flesh, so to speak) gave the work real power. Title’s skill alone bears admiration, as her renditions of Barbie’s distorted face reflected on the pool’s surface are familiar and eerily accurate.

Though the exhibition has garnered critique from Ms. Blog readers and fellow feminists on account of its title, blogger and scholar Natalie Wilson decodes the show best when she says,

The reactions thus far of “drowning” as violent focus on the project’s title alone, failing to take the content (and context) of the paintings into account–they are not a glorification of violence but a critique of the violence done to girls and women (and their bodies and self-esteem) by what Barbie represents.

 

It is truly Barbie’s contorted reflection on the watery surface of the backyard pool that drives home what Wilson terms the grotesque abnormality of Barbie’s body. In her wobbling reflection, the suffocating ideals of feminine beauty that Barbie represents are revealed for what they truly are–silly, unimportant, impeachable. The subversive power inherent in that act of purposeful distortion resonated in the real-life presence of the work.

But girls everywhere receive Barbie dolls as gifts every single day, and so the conversation must go on. A panel of experts, including Ms. bloggers Natalie Wilson, Elline Lipkin and Melanie Klein, along with “Drown the Dolls” artist Daena Title and the first-ever voice of Spanish Barbie, Marabina Jaimes, will share their insights into the Barbie universe at Koplin Del Rio, in Culver City, CA, on January 29 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.  The event is open to all; join the discussion!

Photos of the exhibition by the author.

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