Most of the time, Barbie is criticized for her unrealistic body type and the impression she makes on young girls. But Barbie is still a career-driven woman, holding down more than 150 jobs in her 55 years. Barbie’s latest gig, based on artist interpretation, depicts her as Virgin Mary with a Ken doll Jesus. It would be an understatement to say that Catholic officials are outraged.
Pool Paolini and Marianela Perelli are the artists who chose to customize 33 different Barbie and Ken sets to look like religious figures in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Catholicism. The artists rationalized their controversial choice by calling it a humorous attack on fictional, historical, religious and political ideals. According to the artists, Barbie has been a teacher, a doctor and a police officer. Why not try Virgin Mary next?
Buenos Aires Catholic officials are specifically peeved at Ken’s role in the exhibit. A Ken doll was portrayed as Jesus hanging on a crucifix.
This exhibit is certainly ballsy — which was the artists’ intention. But both artists are baffled by how local religious authorities reacted. The artists are not antireligion and believe they took care to respect all religious beliefs. They went so far as to omit Muhammad from their work, since Islam prohibits the prophet’s representation. The artists’ work will be displayed in their upcoming show, “Barbie, The Plastic Religion.”
I am a Christian, and I happen to take my religious observation lightly. I believe God can take a joke. While I can see why Catholic officials would take offense to a Jesus doll on a cross, I have to applaud these artists for doing exactly what they set out to do.
Art is controversial. All press is good press. Artists are allowed to use any medium and interpretation they would like to tackle difficult subjects, including religion and politics. I personally am impressed that these artists were thoughtful enough to omit Muhammad from their display. They could have easily depicted him in Ken doll form to purposely stir the pot even more.
Irate Catholic officials are urging parents to explain to their children how dolls are not always gifts and to teach the true stories the religious dolls represent. This is a great idea. Instead of seeing these artists’ work as an affront to religion, we can see it as an open door. If kids relate to dolls dressed up as Mary and Jesus, then parents can use them as a talking point to share their beliefs and discuss other religions.
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