My Barbie Series: Hottentot Venus Tribute
Barbie Sacrifice, graphite, charcoal, watercolor and ink on paper,
22" x 29", 2000
Amputee Barbie, graphite, charcoal, watercolor and ink on paper,
22" x 29", 2001
Drowning, graphite, charcoal, watercolor and ink on paper, 22" x 29", 2000
Barbie Marathon, acrylic and ink on paper, 30" x 40", 2001
Beneath the Surface, pastel, graphite, acrylic and ink on paper,30" x 40", 2000
Barbie Cabaret. graphite and ink on paper, 22" x 29", 2000
Barbie Wedding, Barbie Honeymoon, graphite and ink on paper,
22" x 29", 2000
Barbie Herd,charcoal, graphite and ink on paper,30" x 40", 2000
Barbie of Eden,acrylic and ink on paper,11" x 14", 2003
Barbie Herd II,acrylic and ink on paper,30" x 40", 2001
For the first twenty years of her existence black Barbie was merely a colorized
white doll with no racially distinct physical attributes other than the obvious
signifier.

Pondering this detail led me to think of the Hottentot Venus, a victim of racism
and sexism during colonial times. In the early eighteen hundreds Saarjie, or
Sarah, Bartman, a young South African woman, was made an object of sexual
curiosity by the French. She was taken against her will from her African
Bushmen home to France where she was included and displayed as an exotic
attraction within a traveling exhibit. The French were awed by her appearance,
because even though she was black, her facial features were “white”. Her body
also intrigued them, because her legs and buttocks were voluptuous. White
western culture during the Victorian era thought protruding buttocks of these
African women signified hidden and temperamental sexuality.  When Saarjie was
presented to paying European audiences she was displayed in a degrading
manner and asked to perform crude acts.  This required behavior was thought
to be revealing of innate sexuality of the culture from which she was taken.  She
died suddenly and mysteriously during her captivity at the age of twenty-four.
Even in death she was victimized: her sex organs were harvested
for study, and she was taxidermied for display in a museum. The
French considered the handling of her body after her death a form
of study. The Hottentot Venus is a mysterious figure, because
conclusions of the studies tell us very little about Saarjie, but
instead reveal much about French culture and accepted research
methods of the early nineteenth century.

Citing her remains as stolen property the Bushmen of South Africa
won, in 2002 after several years of litigation, the battle for their
ownership in an international court.  After the ruling she was
shipped back to Africa immediately. The Bushmen responded with a
celebratory parade, followed by a proper burial.
As for Mattel, in 1988 they hired an entirely black staff to research,
design, and create the black Barbie.  The result has produced a wide
range of physical characteristics in the black Barbie line.  This includes
the introduction of racially distinct facial features, hair texture, hair
length, body style, and skin tones intended to reflect contemporary
African American women.  The precedent set by the current standards
in producing black Barbie has led to manufacturing sensitivities
regarding the production of all Barbies.  The dolls now reflect diversity
within all races that they emulate, and the current bodies have smaller
breasts, wider waists, and fuller hips. Currently, there are also athletic
dolls produced that have flat feet—high heels are now optional for
Barbie.
Jasmine,acrylic and ink on paper,
18" x 24", 2004
Barbie Safari,acrylic and ink on paper,30" x 40", 2001
All of the images on this page are thumbnails, please click on the thumbnails of each work below to view a larger, full screen image.
recent studio work about Ramón y Cajal.
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