Kali- Barbie: A figure to be worshipped or played with?
Recollecting memories from my childhood, I always remember the Barbie doll as being an action figure associated with simple daily entertainment. Barbie is popular for her many roles in departments of education, medicine, military, public service, politics, science, engineering, arts, transportation, business and miscellaneous. However, two Argentinian artists have been inspired to put forth a collection of Barbie dolls in a religious role, they call their series, “Barbie-The Plastic Religion.” Marianela Perelli and Pool Paolini have attracted quite the attention to their names and doll series by releasing figures of Barbie and Ken as Virgin Mary and a crucified Jesus Christ. This articles prime focus is on the Kali doll that Barbie is depicted to be. Kali also known as Ma Kali is a powerful and symbolic religious figure in the Hindu religion, as she is the goddess of Shakti (divine energy).
Traditionally, Ma Kali’s physical depiction is created on the belief that she has multiple arms, one of which is holding onto a severed head, which also matches the garland of decapitated heads worn around her neck. In other arms she hold various forms of weaponry such as a trident and a sword. Often her tongue is out which is associated with her rejection of feminine grace. Her overall image looks very powerful and portrays destruction. Perelli and Paolini’s Kali-Barbie is seen to have her tongue withdrawn which is a representation of the implication of the feminine grace, foreign to traditional Ma Kali. Barbie dolls are always smiling and in relgion this is not the case. Followers take religious figures very seriously because they reflect a serious nature. This diluted portrayal has sparked controversy in the Hindu community and Rajan Zed, a Hindu cleric has expressed his dislike in the collection as being “simply improper, wrong and out of place.”
The Hindu religion welcomes artists to forsake inspiration from the Hindu tradition and apply it in their artwork. Perelli and Paolini’s Kali-Barbie is not meant to offend Hinduism but unintentionally has. A Barbie doll is something a child or anyone can play with and by portraying her in religious form, it can be easy to conclude that these powerful religious figures can also be played with. As I child I constantly threw my Barbie dolls around but if a child were to throw a religious Barbie around it could be acknowledged as a sign of disrespect and could spark superstition of being punished if the figure is mistreated. In conclusion, this is not an attack on religion but can be misunderstood and flagged as inappropriate. Barbie is something to play with and religious figures are to be worshipped. In this particular case, we have combination of the two ideas’, here is where the problem arises: do you play with this figure or worship it?