If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Enter Gallery artist, Hannah Shillito, you’ll know she has a wardrobe that’s the envy of the whole town. Often spotted wearing outfits made from all-pink-everything, Shillito pays homage to Barbie in her wardrobe, and now she’s paying homage to Barbie in her art…
To coincide with the release of the new Barbie movie, Shillito has released a number of new Barbie-inspired artworks which are available exclusively at Enter Gallery now.
In today’s blog, we’re chatting to Shillito to learn more about what Barbie means to her and the inspirations behind the works.
Hannah Shillito is a Brighton-based artist whose attention-grabbing work (and very being) is defined by colour, maximalism, and pure positivity.
Now, Shillito is celebrating Barbie, and everything she represents, because while many have dismissed her as just a plastic doll with an unattainable body shape, if you look a little closer, Barbie can actually teach us a lot about society and the progress that has been made. Shillito tells us:
“I think Barbie has quite a lot to say. She’s been around a long time and means a lot to a lot of people. It’s easy to dismiss her as vacuous or as an unfair beauty ideal, but isn’t it much more interesting to think about what she has given to the people that have played with her and the ways that she reflects how society’s beauty ideals have changed, and are continuing to change for the better?”
It’s worth noting the forward steps Mattel have made in terms of representation in recent years, with the manufacturer making huge strides to release Barbie dolls that represent all skin tones, body shapes, hair textures, and disabilities.
Whatever way your opinion falls, Barbie’s staying power defines her as one of the most iconic female characters of all time. The stats don’t lie. According to Mattel, over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold in over 150 countries, and three Barbie dolls are reportedly sold every second.
Brains and Beauty
Speaking of this new collection of works and the thinking behind them, Shillito explains that she wanted to explore the outdated idea that women can either be feminine or brainy, but certainly not both.
Barbie proves this wrong. Since her launch in 1956, she has been a very busy woman, dabbling in over 150 careers. She landed on the moon four years before it was a twinkle in Neil Armstrong’s eye and in 1992 she ran for president. Shillito explains:
“To dismiss wearing pink or high heels as making you stupid is so dismissive of all the things that women are. What has wearing certain clothes, or make up got to do with intelligence? Women can do both. This links to my obsession with Dolly Parton, she wears a lot of make-up like me, and pretends to be ditzy but Dolly is smart. You certainly don’t mess with Dolly, do you?”
“This idea is old-fashioned and it buys into the misogynistic idea that women are just on earth to look good for men. It ignores our complexities and everything we have within us. This is why I chose to show my Barbies wearing gold or against gold backgrounds, because I wanted to make a statement that women aren’t just commodities, we’re solid gold.”
This Is Our Story, What’s Yours?
Shillito reveals that one of her new pieces, This is Our Story, What’s Yours? is intended as an exploration of the male gaze, how female nudity has been commodified, and how out of date ideas teach us to think about women and women’s bodies.
The piece depicts a selection of dolls of various skin colours and sizes, surrounded by quotes about nudity and the female body from a range of prominent figures, including everyone from Gloria Steinem to Donald Trump.
“It’s ridiculous but not surprising that when you search for quotes about the female form, most of them are from men, particularly in art.”
“There’s one quote in there I really like from Margaret Atwood that says, ‘You are woman with man inside, watching a woman’. It sums up how we’ve all been programmed to think like men, and to look at other women from a male viewpoint because that’s how the patriarchy wants us to behave, and how they want us to feel about other women.”
Fed around the black quotes are a number of Barbie’s mantras written in her signature hot pink. When presented in stark contrast to the quotes in black, Barbie’s declarations that ‘Magic happens when you believe in yourself’ and ‘Together we are strong’– it’s clear that Barbie is designed to uplift, inspire and unite women in a world that seeks to control them and keep them small. Shillito explains:
“They’re a bit live, laugh, love… but they’re nice and they’re always hopeful. They encourage women to support each other. To me, they are also drowning out the noise of all the opinions about the female form that come at women from all angles.”
Shillito’s exploration of the patriarchy continues in her Barbie Bell Jars, in which she depicts her dolls encased in glass domes.
By trapping her dolls inside a glass jar, Shillito comments on how the patriarchy continues to keep women contained. As a fun little twist, each sculpture comes with a little hammer, so that you have a tool to smash the patriarchy with, allowing the dolls to emerge from their cages, lit up, and finally free.
Hannah Shillito’s Barbie works are available exclusively at Enter Gallery now. Explore the collection here.