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Left: Frida Kahlo in 1932 (photo by Guillermo Kahlo, courtesy Sotheby’s, via Wikimedia Commons); right: the Frida Kahlo Barbie doll (courtesy Mattel)

A new Barbie doll inspired by the famous Surrealist artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo has been banned from sale in Mexico — and not because toymaker Mattel’s design omitted her famous unibrow.

Yesterday, a judge in the Superior Court of Justice in Mexico City issued a temporary injunction against sales of the doll, suggesting that the Panama-based Frida Kahlo Corporation may not have the authority to give Mattel the rights to Kahlo’s image. The Corporation claims it was granted rights to Kahlo’s image and likeness more than a decade ago by the artist’s niece, Isolda Pinedo Kahlo, according to the Guardian.

The new Barbie figure of Frida Kahlo (image courtesy Mattel)

“The Frida Kahlo Corporation actively participated in the process of designing the doll, Mattel has its permission and a legal contract that grants it the rights to make a doll of the great Frida Kahlo,” the toy company said in a statement last month, when the doll was released to coincide with International Women’s Day, as part of its Inspiring Women series.

However, Kahlo’s great-niece, Mara de Anda Romeo, argued in court that Mattel did not have those rights. The temporary injunction blocks Mattel and Mexican retailers from selling or promoting the Kahlo doll in Mexico until the issue is resolved.

“I’m thrilled, I think justice is finally being done,” de Anda Romeo told the AFP, adding: “We, the Kahlo family, are the ones who have the rights to all these things.”

Pablo Sangri, the attorney for Kahlo’s family, said that the injunction in Mexico is the first step of a broader legal campaign that may expand to the United States next. “This litigation is in its first stage,” Sangri said. “We asked the judge to grant certain precautionary measures to protect our rights to Frida Kahlo’s intellectual property.”

Vogue titled "Señoras of Mexico" (photo by Toni Frissell, via Wikimedia Commons)” width=”720″ height=”710″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/frida-kahlo-photo-toni-frissell-720×710.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/frida-kahlo-photo-toni-frissell-1080×1065.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/frida-kahlo-photo-toni-frissell-360×355.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/frida-kahlo-photo-toni-frissell.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

Frida Kahlo, seated next to an agave plant, from a 1937 photo shoot for Vogue titled “Señoras of Mexico” (photo by Toni Frissell, via Wikimedia Commons)

De Anda Romeo has been demanding a redesign of the doll since the first images were released in early March. Her criticisms include the doll’s missing unibrow, its relatively tame clothes compared to Kahlo’s ornate and intricate Tehuana wardrobe, its lightened skin tone, and its typically thin Barbie body shape. She told the AFP: “It should have been a much more Mexican doll, with darker skin, a unibrow, not so thin because Frida was not that thin … dressed in more Mexican clothing, with Mexican jewelry.”

At least one buyer disagrees with the criticisms of the Kahlo doll. In his five-star review on Mattel’s website, user “Mexican Dad” says:

Growing up all we had as Hispanics were American inspired toys…. from Barbie to He-Man… finally we get a doll that’s not a Quinceñera doll and we cry about it. Get over it people if you don’t like the doll don’t buy it but don’t rain on all other people who waited a life time for this doll.

Though the Frida Kahlo Barbie may be the most high-profile doll based on a female artist to date, it is by no means the first. In the 1860s, dolls based on the famous French painter Rosa Bonheur were a big hit.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

5 replies on “Judge in Mexico Blocks Sales of the New Frida Kahlo Barbie”

  1. Frida Kahlo has been speaking to psychic Canadian sculptor MURAR for three years – Frida calls herself a “Free Spirit” and has offered the “shelter” under her wings to any “younger” artists who desire “mentoring”….she has spoken extensively about her paintings, and philosophy. She is mentoring also, MURAR and part of this is a “celebration” of every work of art that has been completed in Murar’s studio. She is very warm, generous, and “free”. All quotes from these psychic conversations have been recorded, by writing as they happen, and are kept in the sculptor’s studio files.

  2. It’s not a good likeness of Frida. There’s no fire, and as was said, the doll’s skin is too light, her arms too thin, and why not more traditional dress? Would Frida have wanted this for little Mexican girls?

  3. As a clairaudient psychic I have been in contact with Frida Kahlo for the past 3 years – I asked her on April 22, 2018 to give a quote on the controversy about the Frida doll….anyone who is interested should contact me through Facebook, Susan Murar. She started off by saying, “Yes! I’m full of quotes!”

  4. Looks like Frida to me. Sounds like the niece didn’t get enough money to agree to the terms. I looked at numerous pictures of her, and the unibrow on the doll seems original to what she had. How about looking at the doll as a celebration of a strong and intelligent woman who would not accept mediocrity as the norm.

  5. Milquetoast – the awful doll, the lifeless comments. No real Frida knowers or lovers here. Besides inimitable beauty and fire, Frida Kahlo was the painter of pain, woman’s pain – physical, emotional, psychic and spiritual. Pain, not suffering, is the great awakener. The missing details are essential to her uniqueness. Would even a truer ‘doll’ show the entrails and corsets? blood, guts and anguish of this supreme woman? Of course not. She is being whitewashed as we speak. Savor the old film clips on youtube while they’re still up, and the books. And the paintings. And the old black-and-white photos of Frida, patron saint of broken hearts and unbroken soul.

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