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Deveron Projects

The Town Is The Venue
What is the 50/50 Principle? What is the 50/50 Principle?

Senzeni Marasela

Jonga: Look at Me - Museum of Women, Dolls and Memories

2009

How do you do that? Make someone love you?
Pecola Breedlove in Toni Morrison's 1970 novel, The Bluest Eye
An exploration of women’s self-perception, in the 50th year of the Barbie doll

Senzeni Marasela came to Huntly from Johannesburg, South Africa with her daughter Thato in winter 2009.

In Huntly, as elsewhere in the world, many girls and young women struggle with their own self-image. Through glossy magazines and the silver screen our globalised culture presents a single image of female identity, ignoring personal and cultural histories. Emaciated, busty and pale-skinned, this questionable image is characterised by the popular Barbie doll. So, with the 50th anniversary of the doll, what is it that affords Barbie the affection and admiration she receives? What is it that provokes an opposing reaction? And what is Barbie's role in the worldwide community of women, as an icon, a look, a childhood memory and a woman?

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Senzeni Marasela cites her own experience as a woman, and relationships with other women as a stimulus for her artwork. In particular, her mother is a key figure to understanding Senzeni's views on female identity, as her diagnosis with schizophrenia and subsequent absence from much of the artist's childhood is exemplary of a woman fragmented by contradictory expectations and multiple roles. Senzeni has developed a practice of working with dolls; wherein parallel destructive and nurturing relationships are explored to understand the complex role of a mother, as well as Senzeni's own personal identity as a black woman from South Africa, a place with its own histories of segregation.

For a month, the Empty Shop on Bogie Street became a Museum of Women, Dolls and Memories, for which Senzeni organised a town-wide Barbie amnesty. The museum exhibited the dolls as they were received (many of them naked) alongside the voices of real women from Huntly. These were presented in an oppressively pink room, the walls of which had been scrawled upon by Senzeni with statements and questions gathered from the community, such as the above quotation. This environment prompted the audience and participants to consider their feelings towards the relationship of fulfilment and self-presentation, as well as their own roles and responsibilities as individuals; how had they developed having grown up with this image of beauty in mind? Throughout the installation of the work, Senzeni chalked her phrases wearing a shapeless sackcloth, renouncing presentation and fashion-identity. At the same time she remained highly visible in contrast to the surrounding white-skinned women and 'real life Barbie' Sarah Burge, with whom she posed for various photographs. It is this grey area that Senzeni seeks to explore; the interstices between the fragments that contextualise women's lives.

Senzeni's event concluded with a panel discussion chaired by Moira Jeffrey with Sarah Burge (Real Life Barbie), Jess MacCabe (editor of the F-Word) and Dr Jim Beattie (Aesthetic Clinician).

     

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