LAHORE: Popular culture has certainly taken a turn for the macabre over the last decade. With skulls making headway onto the ramp with Alexander McQueen and music’s most fascinating find, Lady Gaga horrifying us with an ensemble crafted from raw meat, what lengths will popular culture go to make a statement? And just when we are having this thought, a young lady from New York, Marguax Lange, goes ahead and deconstructs Barbie in a completely unexplored (shudder) dimension.
This month, Barbie is celebrating 52 years of the doll enrapturing young girls. An iconic toy, Barbie symbolises the stereotypes of female sensuality: Voluptuous, dainty and uber chic. When one thinks of Barbie, the connotations are always one of heightened feminity. Lange, however goes to the other end of the spectrum and breaks the dolls apart and uses their amputated limbs to create jewellery. Not only is the mere thought of using anthropomorphic appendages to create something used to adorn one’s body, disconcerting in itself, the visual manifestation of the idea is frightening at best, and repulsive at worst. The images of the pieces are strong enough to speak for themselves.
The fact that Lange purposely utilises Barbies that are used or discarded, spoke volumes of her intent to not only recycle, but add meaning to her project by incorporating the feelings and perceptions of all those little girls that have played with these dolls. “Often my work utilises Barbie as an archetype to analyse all that this icon has come to symbolise,” says Lange. “Sometimes, I aim to distance myself and critique pop culture in this way, and other times I wish to engage and participate in it”.
Upon seeing the images of Lange’s work, jewellery designer Kiran Aman was also taken aback stating, “The woman (Lange) certainly has issues with her sexuality.” Although Aman found the concept to be a novel idea, she said, “it was visually disturbing for someone like me whose work is about growth and metamorphosis.” How would she do it differently then? “I would have used a body part but given Barbie a full figure with metal and made extensions to create another scene and tell a story,” says Aman. Lange’s work in its original form is freaky since she obliterates Barbie and the disjointed body parts appear to be a rather morbid stance on child’s play.
It is Lange’s intention however, to incite these emotions of distress to represent her own experience with womanhood which was “a series of rejecting and embracing prescriptive roles and stereotypes.” A thought that an artist as innovative as Amin Gulgee dismisses as passe, “I have seen lots of stuff like that,” says Gulgee in his distinctive bored drawl, adding that he doesn’t feel that Lange’s work was intended as social commentary. In either case, “I am so sick of social commentary,” states Gulgee. “This is all 1960s feminism and it doesn’t really make sense in South Asia at all. Depending on how you see it, either it could be empowerment, for jewellery does empower a woman, or it could be slavery,” he philosophises.
One could always dispute on how an artistic work is viewed, for the average consumer however, Lange’s work could either amplify young girls’ obsession for Barbie or completely put them off the doll. In either case, it will certainly make young girls think about their own unique interpretation and relationship with the toy.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2011.
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