Art Activist Barbie

As a feminist, qualitative researcher and activist, I address ‘enduring and emergent questions of gendered social justice’, (Olesen, 2018, p. 151) through the staging and posing of Barbie dolls in art galleries and museums to draw attention to, and ask questions about, gender representation, inequalities and injustices. My work is part of a Canadian SSHRC-funded research project (see also Challenging gender representation, injustice and inequality through art gallery interventions) and it is a practice of intentionality, ‘intentionally bringing a political learning agenda to the table and reaching toward the kinds of political action and learning that are necessary’, (English & Irving, 2015, p. 3) for ‘wokeness’, justice, transformation and change.

Art galleries and museums are seen by many as trusted, authoritative and influential places and the ArtActivistBarbie project researches the potential of these places as spaces for action to educate for social justice and promote change. Hall, Evans and Nixon (2013) and Cramer and Witcomb (2018) state that museum and art gallery representations shape our identity – who we were, who we are and who we should be. The feminist, activist use of Barbie dolls in these spaces may be viewed as a form of ‘culture jamming’ (DeLaure, Fink and Deary, 2017)  which can give agency through creative subversion and give voice via a form of radical ventriloquism. It is a site-specific pedagogical approach which can turn passive museum and gallery spaces into transformational arenas.

Sarah Williamson,  University of Huddersfield

Huddersfield Centre for Research in Education and Society 


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