Two Argentinian artists are facing vehement criticism for creating Barbie dolls inspired by religious figures, and the Buenos Aires gallery planning to exhibit them has cancelled the show ahead of its opening.
“Given repeated anonymous threats concerning the event, the artists decided not to exhibit his work, fearing for the physical safety of visitors,” a notice on POPA gallery’s website announced.
Emiliano Paolini and Marianela Perelli’s Barbie: The Plastic Religion would have featured 33 Barbies as sacred figures from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Argentine folk religion. Depictions of saints and goddesses like the Virgin Mary and Kali have always indicated beauty standards of the day, and the artists wanted to update these religious icons to reflect contemporary ideals — which they believe are best embodied in the leggy, plastic bombshell doll. The show would have also included several Ken dolls — one crucified like Jesus Christ.
But the plans inspired outrage among religious leaders. “This is so out of place,” Daniel Roja, a local Catholic church official, told Argentine media, in reference to the Barbie version of Difunta Correa, a folk saint who died in the Argentine civil wars. The artists depicted her dead, with her child still feeding from her breast. “This is a figure of faith, which we care for very much and it is why we patented her image and name years ago,” he said.
An editorial on SIR, a website backed by Italian bishops, also criticized the exhibit, asking, “What is the difference between provocation and bad taste?”
“Hindus welcome the art world to immerse in Hinduism but taking it seriously and respectfully and not for refashioning Hinduism concepts and symbols for personal agenda,” Hindu cleric Rajan Zed told The Hindu. “Barbie-fication of [the goddess] Kali is simply improper, wrong and out of place.”
The artists have said they’re surprised by the criticism, insisting that they themselves are religious and meant no disrespect. “We have a sanctuary in the kitchen that has more saints than the Vatican,” Paolini told the Associated Press.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.