Barbie’s Altar, Part I

Jill Lee, curator of the ChatterBox Gallery and art curator for the State of California for Asia, is putting on the fifth showing of her Altered Barbie series. The Altered Barbie and Friends exhibition in Shanghai earlier this year included eleven of Laurie’s photographs for Women of Japan. The Altered Barbie show is a mixed-media take on Barbie, where many artists, some using real Barbie dolls and many using their own images, push the metaphor of Barbie in every possible direction. The show opens in early August at Red Ink Studios at 989 Market Street in San Francisco. The opening reception is Thursday evening, details to follow.

Laurie’s “Altar Barbie” will be the first piece other than a photograph that she has ever created for gallery exhibition. Altar Barbie is in process now in Laurie’s studio.As the concept develops over the next ten days, we’ll be updating what’s on the altar. The centerpiece is Charlotte Davis’s fat Barbie, aptly titled by the artist Pretty and Plump Barbie.

Laurie says: “I never played with Barbie myself; I think I’m too old. When I was a girl, they didn’t have these kind of iconic dolls. When I met Barbie, I hated her on sight.

I told both my daughters that I wouldn’t buy them Barbies or Barbie stuff, but if they got them as gifts or bought them with their own money, that was fine. As a result, I lived with Barbie for twenty years. By the end of that time, my younger daughter had dressed her Barbies in black leather and hung them upside down from the chicken-wire room divider.

I plan to update frequently this week, as I work on the concept of the altar. While I’m doing this, other people’s Barbie’s stories will help me and will inform how the altar comes together.

What did Barbie mean to you? Got any stories to share?

5 thoughts on “Barbie’s Altar, Part I

  1. I’m right in the demographic for Barbie, and I had her and her friend Midge. But for me they weren’t icons of femininity and fashion; they were durable action dolls who had all kinds of adventures. My aunt and mother sewed and knit clothes for them and I enjoyed dressing them up, but once dressed they’d go for a ride in their car and maybe have a wreck and be thrown out, their clothes torn off. Somehow I really enjoyed the contrast between their dressed up perfect selvs and then the ruination that occured to them.

    I had other dolls, dressed up in national costumes, that had to stay on the shelf rather than be played with, and I had trolls and other figures that I enjoyed dressing up and acting out stories.

    Barbie was more of a blank slate then, I think. Today’s are marketed as “teacher Barbie”, “airplane pilot Barbie” etc. That’s fine, but for me and my friends she was just Barbie, ready for whatever stories we could think of.

  2. I am so energized to see y’all’s web log! My own memories of Barbie are of being introduced to the bottomless pit of addictive consumerism. I was probably 9 or 10 when Barbie reached Fairbanks, Alaska, where I lived.

    Before that, I’d been more into plastic animals as play objects, but as soon as we bought a Barbie, it became clear that she was incomplete with the clothes on her back. There was a store full of cute outfits. The manufacturers understood how charmed little girls are by minature things. But it wasn’t only clothes. It developed into cars, friends, clothes for the friends. Barbie always wanted more. I can’t remember another toy that was so demanding.

    Somehow my parents weaned me off the addiction. Probably by not taking me to that toystore very often–as I recall it had a separate Barbie section. No notation about “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” but I’m sure many parents felt that way!

  3. Lizzie,

    I was surprised at how many people told me that they liked to “wreck” their Barbies. You’re clearly right about “the contrast between their dressed up perfect selves and then the ruination that occurred to them”.

    There were some Altered Barbies in that theme at the exhibition.

  4. Lynne,

    I wouldn’t buy my daughters Barbies. The compromise was that they could buy them with their own money or receive them as gifts. They did go through some intense Barbie moments but ended up more in the creative “wreck and ruin” mode.


    Lynne Murray writes the marvelous Josphine Fuller mysteries. Her fat detective is great in all meanings of the word.

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