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Romy Querol’s Barbie and Ken


By Carlos Mundy When I first saw some of Barbie’s photographs taken by photographer Romy Querol I was captivated by the images and realised how current Barbie is and how it has come to symbolize consumer capitalism and is as much a global brand as Coca Cola.

Barbie, an 11-inch- (29-cm-) tall plastic doll with the figure of an adult woman was introduced on March 9, 1959, by Mattel Inc. Her physical appearance was modelled on the German Bild Lilli doll, a risqué gag gift for men based upon a cartoon character featured in the West German newspaper Bild Zeitung and since her birth her sexy body has incited controversy.

In response to consumer demand, Ken was born in 1961. He was Barbie’s ultimate “accessory”. Ken is just Ken. Ken is a piece of delicious, but wholly unnecessary arm candy for Barbie, a woman who can do it all on her own. Barbie’s plus one has finally realized something the rest of us have known forever: it’s Barbie’s universe and he’s just living in it.

With the release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie: this summer’s blockbuster, Romy Querol’s Barbie series is highly topical. Romy was born in Barcelona and is based in Ibiza and her work has been exhibited at art fairs such as Arco Madrid or Basel Hong Kong, in the Arab Emirates in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in the Qatar Cultural Centre in Doha, as well as in many galleries around the world. Her works are in private collections in New York, LA, Paris, London, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Montevideo, Mexico, Milan, Ibiza, Madrid, Barcelona among others.

"The Plastic Sensuality of Pop Art", (above) an exhibition that has travelled the world since 2008, is a parable in which the artist invites us to reflect, through her Barbie portraits, on the contradictions of the world in which we live. “It takes a special ingenuity and a lot of visual delicacy to develop this transformation with a camera points out Roman Gubern - writer, communication historian, eroticist scholar and member of the New York Academy of Science - but Romy has a special magic for framing and lighting. She is thus capable of turning a doll into a sensual object of desire, knowing how to adapt eroticism and the art of suggestion like few others.”

For Romy Querol art can transform any object and give it a new meaning, so a plastic Barbie can be erotic as well as use the power of shapes to express her subjective spirit. Thus, that disparity between style and content becomes a parable that makes us think about the contradictions of the world in which we live. They have an ambivalence of meanings that make it a useful object for an artistic commentary on today’s world.

In the Barbie series of photographs, Romy has elaborated her own visual experiences, learned from her existential experiences, Her vision of the feminine universe. Much of her production unfolds in the register of the imaginary. Voyeurism is in the point of view of each one, not as much as what is perceived in an image in a photograph. Her photographs show a disturbing world, they respond to the desire to shape the same figure that represents the Teutonic ideal of beauty. And what fits with the image of the tamer woman, capable of handling herself with ease in all situations. According to Diego Alonso-art advisor and dealer, “The interesting rhetoric of Romy Querol Soler´s works, precisely relies on her radical change of sense of Barbie’s symbology or of the origin of it. As a sign deeply rooted into the list of international pop culture objects, the artist plays with guided connotations to invert the concepts and to talk about something more contemporary, post-modern (or perhaps millennial), an idea of self-sufficiency and autonomy on desire becoming through double sense a contrasting game between solitude and communion with the world around us. The Doll as a plastic representation of femininity becomes a medium for transmitting the sexual feelings of a free woman in a carnal universe from where plastic and synthetic senses increasingly alienate us. Desire for the body, desire of human animality, seems subdued at an historic time when consumption´s amnesia focuses on physical well-being, sport, and good behaviour. Need for and desire are replaced by the hyper-logical whim and hyper-erotism, as if contemporary complete Freedom has made us slaves of our forced containment.

I had the opportunity to interview Romy at her home in Ibiza. CM- Have you seen Greta Gerwig’s film? RQ- I have not had the opportunity yet but I am very much looking forward to seeing it. CM- Did you play with barbies when you were a child? RQ- Yes. Dolls make children to have beautiful dreams, and grow their awareness of being women, it is like an initiation ritual for all of us. Much of my production unfolds in the register of the imaginary. In this series of photographs, I use my visual image of those fetishes of my childhood but transform them into an oneiric vision of eroticism with the tools of my art, colour, composure, photographic texture, all that. CM- In recent years photographers have fantasized about Barbie’s life in real world, about Disney princess in real world. Do photos, destroy fairy tales? RQ- Yes, Barbies were the ideal of beauty that mums wanted to teach their kids. As an artist I want to tease the audience adding an eroticism to that icon of the ideal suburban woman of the fifties … using strong colours and distorted compositions that break that fairy tale. CM- Many parents dislike Barbie doll for her implausible figure. She's too skinny. Girls want to be like their dolls. They impose stereotypes. We come back to the problem of anorexia. Do you want to portray Barbie with a figure of closer to reality? RQ- Always we find people, both men and women, considered very beautiful, according to the canon of beauty of their respective eras: in the case of women mostly overweight, from the Venus of Willendorf, Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty in Greek mythology to Brigitte Bardot in the 50s under the canon of French beauty. Only recently the myth of the fit, slim woman, has provoked in the female young audience the idea that being thin is beautiful. So, the Barbies were indeed the first prototype of thin women in the doll industry. CM- Today in our society to refer to a woman as a Barbie is considered insulting as if you are saying the woman, is an object. RQ- On the contrary Barbie has helped in the evolution of women. She has been holding down more than two hundred jobs, including air force pilot, robotics engineer, baby doctor, Mars explorer and president, even before a woman has sat in the oval office! CM- Please, tell our readers about first Barbie photo? Why did you choose this doll? RQ- I chose a broken composition, to reveal only a part of the doll, so the audience must complete the figure with his imagination so in him resides the hidden eroticism of the photographs; also, in the warm colours and strong lines so opposed to the sweet, neutral image conveyed by the 3-dimensional dolls as they were conceived by their designers. CM- Photographers often make erotic photos for AD campaigns, fashion magazines. Sex sells well. Do you think people ever get tired of the naked body? RQ- The exploitation of the naked body for a commercial purpose is different from the art of the human figure, of which people never get tired, because it is the maximal expression of love and beauty, though the line between both often blurs. CM- It seems to me, making provocative or sexy photos with a fully dressed model is more difficult. For example, famous pictures of Monroe or Hepburn. They are dressed, but they are very seductive. Why not make such photos? RQ- Precisely because they exploit the human body only to sell a consumption product. But there are still artists who create seduction with clothing and excellent photographers of fashion art who know how to enhance the female figure with the textile´s textures and forms. CM- The art of photography is a very subjective thing. Many people like Terry Richardson's works, but there are people who call the editors to boycott him. What is your success rate as a photographer? RQ- What I like from Terry Richardson is how he imposes his congenial style to all his subjects. He is a master of reflecting a character behind a smile. CM- Are you still working on the Barbie series? RM- Since the beginning of the year 2000 I have continued working on the different Barbie series that can be seen on my website. As I come from an advertising and journalism background, I have titled the series amusingly.

CM- Now many people are obsessed with photography. Everyday people take pictures, share them. Anyone can call themselves a photographer. Would you like to be in a time when people rarely photographed?

RQ- On the contrary, it is refreshing that so many people now have access to high technology as it liberates their creative capacities to express their emotions. If Andy Warhol said that everybody deserves 15 minutes of fame in their life, I truly believe everybody has many feelings in his soul that they reflect beautifully in their home pictures. But the professional adds his technique and creativity that still differentiates his craft as a work of art. CM- What currents - or artists - in art and photography do you like? RQ- I'm attracted to the work of Murakami, Saint Phalle, Daan Roosegaarde. Among the classics of pop art, I would mention Rauschemberg, Richard Hamilton, Hockney and the iconoclasm of Johns. CM- You live in Ibiza. Is there an artistic reason for living on the magical island? RQ- I spend many months on the island, its natural way of life inspires me. Please visit the artist website

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