Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Drown the Dolls

In order to prove that I am in fact still alive and able to blog (albeit from under a mountain of work and miscellaneous life stuff I need to deal with), I'm writing a post that basically just asks a question.

I've gotten a couple of emails about this art project: Drown the Dolls. It purports to be a feminist response to our oppressive beauty standard as embodied by Barbie. The artist has created a series of photographs and paintings of Barbies drowning. When I look at the images, though, I don't so much get the message that the beauty standard is being drowned as that images of violence against women - especially attractive women - are both acceptable and visually appealing in our culture. In fact, in most of the images only portions of the doll's body is shown, which is another disturbing feature of our visual culture.

Am I being too sensitive? What's your take on this? Is this a constructive feminist statement or a continuation of a disturbing trend in how we portray the female body?


  1. I don't find it too bad because they're not torturing the barbies. There are many examples on the Internet of people putting barbies in sexual positions for base amusement and that is not feminist. But the drowned barbies aren't very artistic or interesting.

    A few years ago there was an artist who destroyed barbies in funny non-objectifying ways. Like sticking the entire barbie with only the head showing inside enchiladas and showing the enchilada barbies with melted cheese on top.

  2. Anonymous11/18/2010

    Yeah, I thought this was mildly disturbing. I don't think it's awful, but it certainly doesn't have a powerful or new message.

  3. Minerva11/18/2010

    It's complicated, because the Barbie is not just a symbol of the Western beauty ideal. To many people she's a symbol of femininity, so violent images featuring her are problematic.

  4. Yeah, I think the history of violent images against women being sexualized makes these pictures problematic.

  5. dirtyhippie11/22/2010

    I think images like this actually send a message like "violence against women is not OK unless it's a woman you don't like" or "violence against women is not OK unless you're using it to prove a point."

  6. I think you should check out the work on the website. It seems to me to be very empowering. Especially the paintings where the pre-teen girls are, metaphorically, saying NO to Barbie as their only future and present role model.
    You can pick and choose anything to meet a negative agenda, but if you look at more of it, I think the artist's intention is clear and very welcome.

  7. Anonymous11/23/2010

    Actually I think the message is very positive. The "Barbie you must look like me to be beautiful" image is not healthy. to me the message is that you dont need to look like a barbie doll to be beautiful.. that there is beauty in every single one of us. In drowning the dolls, the artist is symbolically destroying that image.

  8. Anonymous11/23/2010

    I don't get the violence aspect at all. I think it's more of a statement of freeing the female child from having to look a certain way in order to feel good about herself. To me the artist is liberating girls to say 'you're okay even if you aren't a size negative zero'. I like her paintings!

  9. Anonymous11/24/2010

    Are you joking? These are images of dream like other wordly subject. They are exploration of what reality means. How PC can you be?

  10. Actually I think the message is very positive. The "Barbie you must look like me to be beautiful" image is not healthy. to me the message is that you dont need to look like a barbie doll to be beautiful.. that there is beauty in every single one of us. In drowning the dolls, the artist is symbolically destroying that image.

    Sure. I get that. But is that the only message the images project? Can't an image (or text) have multiple meanings? And if one of these is problematic, perhaps very problematic, can't it cancel out the positive meaning(s) of the work? I'm just thinking maybe there are better ways to get this message out there, and relying on images of violence against a female symbol might be a bit problematic.

  11. anonymous other11/24/2010

    These are images of dream like other wordly subject. They are exploration of what reality means.

    I'm not sure how images of drowning Babies count as an exploration of what reality means - whatever that means. And if something is "dream-like" and "other-worldly" does that exempt it from any critique regarding it's underlying message? So I could produce some terribly misogynistic or racist or homophobic images and get away with it as long as they were dream-like and other-worldly? Hmm.

  12. I don't really think it's problematic - just uninteresting and unoriginal.

  13. I have to admit, as a young art student I burned Barbie. At the stake, on my driveway. I was in recovery from an eating disorder and it felt good to see her burn. The reactions from other students in my art class were positive- the project was to creatively destroy something. Most of us picked an object we disliked. Sure, burning/drowning/harming Barbie can be an act of symbolic violence, but symbolic violence also can be cathartic. Now, my piece was not for display- it was more an act of art therapy than fine art, but I would not have wanted anyone to try to deny me my interpretation of that act of burning. I suspect this artist is enjoying the experience, the way I enjoyed mine. I don't think it is great art, but I don't have a problem with it either.

  14. First of all, these paintings are gorgeous. And secondly, young girls drowning their own dolls is the exact same idea as women burning their own bras. Or would you go back now and condemn that, too, because it encourages the incineration of women? These girls are fighting back and in a fabulous, original visual format that is just the kind of statement the feminist movement has always strived for and embraced.

  15. Anonymous11/29/2010

    @ Bri

    I do think that clothing is different from a doll in that it is not symbolic of women in the way a Barbie doll is. And other commenters have already pointed out that wheter the paintings are gorgeous or not is irrelevant. I think you can really and truly despise the beauty ideal and critique it in numerous ways, as the author of this blog has done many times, without having to accept each and every vehicle for that critique. I agree with the OP that we should be really careful about images that portray violence against female figures. I don't think that means that this art project is terrible or anything like that. But it does mean there are probably better ways to do this.

  16. Drown the Dolls is a stunning body of work by an artist who I've been following for some time and she has always been conscious of the complexity of women's issues. This series is absolutely brilliant in addressing and making a powerful statement against the objectification of women using drowning as a metaphor.

  17. Shannigan12/01/2010

    Seems like maybe Amy and Bri are aliases for the artist?

    The thing is, none of the comments in favor of this project actually engage with the concern Rachel is voicing. Just saying over and over again that the paintings are stunning and gorgeous and meant to take on the beauty standard doesn't address the issue being raised here. If you have a real argument that would show how Rachel's concerns are unfounded, then say it. Write it out here in the comments. But repeating a bunch of irrelevant stuff over and over isn't accomplishing anything.

  18. As the artist behind "DROWN the DOLLS", I wanted to thank you for discussing my work and hope you'll go to
    where I discuss my intent in the work at length.
    The question raised here seems to me: Is an image different depending on who makes it? Does intent matter? Or must an artist answer to all symbols and possible meanings?
    The Ancient Greeks idealized the human body. One could see all those naked women as pornography and an objectification of women, or see them in the light of the artist's intent. In Olifi's portrait of Mary, he included elephant dung to "connect her in a basic way to the African earth and its people". Certainly Julianni saw that differently and took offense, but was Olifi wrong to use it?

    I believe who makes the image, who owns it's history and the life from which it sprang, matters. I do not see this as violence against women. I see it as training our little girls to fight back. If that means "drowning" the tools of an oppressive patriarchal society, then so be it.

  19. Anonymous12/30/2010

    I think it's manipulative to get pre-teen girls, which are too old to play with Barbies in the first place, and get them to pose with these Barbies and make them pretend to drown them with glee. Girls that play with Barbies are about 4-9, by 10, it's basically over. If I really saw a child trying to drown a Barbie, I would think the child had mental problems, or was experiencing abuse. It would scare me. I also agree with above comments, about it being okay to violently drown a beautiful image of a woman. Why is that okay?

    Furthermore, I think it's the artist who has issues. This work is autobiographical. It is about her feelings about herself, her own self-image and she feels like she is drowning and can't face life changing or herself changing, etc., etc. She is drowning and Barbie floats. Barbie is the triumphant one here.

    Also, it is not particularly interesting, new or exciting, though it has fun elements and in today's lipo/botox/laser obsession, has relevance. Some of the paintings are better than others.

    I wish she painted better. The skills are mediocre. Yet, it was a good attempt at what could have been a more interesting show.