Art

Real Live Dolls

Sheila Pree Bright’s images of human females morphed with doll parts make a smart statement about how young women perceive their own beauty.

By Lora Wiley - lora@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos by Sheila Pree Bright
Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

Citizen Brooklyn: Like The Nu Project, there have been many different art series/movements to defy stereotypical beauty in recent years. What sets your Plastic Bodies series apart?
There have been many artists and writers who use the Barbie Doll in their work, however none of them had addressed issues of race or ethnicity at the time I created Plastic Bodies in 2003. I chose to photograph Barbie in a way to critique mass media and consumer culture to analyze how Barbie is used to assimilate various cultures in order to sell a product under the guise of multiculturalism.

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

CBK: This series consist of “collaging”, for a lack of a better word, images of female humans with doll parts. What gave you this idea?
While creating Plastic Bodies, I was influenced by the techniques of German artist Hannah Hoch and American photographer Richard Avedon. A Dadaist artist, Hanah Hoch was interested in the representation of women within mass media and used the technique of photomontage, combining different pictures on one sheet of photographic paper, to comment on social issues. Fashion photographer Richard Avedon took bold and glamorized portraits, often magnifying the flaws of his subjects. I create images using photographic techniques similar to Hoch and Avedon. I act as a plastic surgeon, employing Photoshop software to blend and layer images.

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

CBK: Despite all the discussion, rhetoric and image busting regarding the female size and shape in recent years, do you think we have advanced our thinking or reached the critical demo of young women? How far do we have to go in your opinion?
I think American beauty standards remain the standard by which girls and young women compare themselves. However, representations of black features, such as lips and buttocks, are being desired by woman of all ethnicities in contemporary culture in the 21st century

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

CBK: Have you been surprised at the reaction to your Plastic Bodies series? What did you learn from it?
No, not really. I morph human skin onto a toy figure, showing the fine line that is often drawn between reality and fabrication in American Culture. French social theorist Jean Baudrillard described this concept as The Precession of Simulacra: “The concept of simulation suggests the fabrication of what is real through conceptual or “mythological” models has no connection or origin in reality. Instead of the reality, the model becomes the determinant of our perception of reality. Therefore ideal models presented through the media, such as homes, relationships, fashion, art and music all become dictated by the given ideal. This creates a world of hyper-reality where the distinctions between real and dream-like are blurred.”

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

CBK: One of the most stunning images is that of a young African American girl whose face is half human/half doll. What type of juxtaposition/duality does this speak do? Describe your take as an artist of this picture.
The image suggests that the young girl is becoming Barbie. Further, the image may appear haunting or surreal as it shows the morphing of human skin onto a toy, symbolizing the assimilation of western beauty standards. Specifically, the work uses the history of the Barbie doll to show the impact the doll has on girls and women of color.

CBK: What do you hope to accomplish as a photographer?
As a Fine Art Photographer, and sometimes described as a Cultural Anthropologist, my goal is to use my artwork to create images that examine and capture observations of cultures, exploring how people meet at a common intersection.

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

Photo © Sheila Pree Bright

CBK: Tell us about what you are working on now.

My most current work, 1960 Who public art series. I placed larger than life portraits of youth leaders of the 1960’s on walls in downtown Atlanta. The work aims to inspire communities and connect generations toward positive solutions for social good.  In March 2014, I kick-off the second phase of the project as Artist-in-Residency at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture that is apart of the museum’s exhibition For Whom It Stands: The Flag and the American People which opened May 18, 2014  thru  February 2015.

Plastic Bodies is featured in a group exhibition, Posing Beauty in African American Culture, Virginia Museum of Fine Art until July 27th. Also in the group exhibition, Black Like Who?:  Exploring Race and Representation, Birmingham Museum of Fine Art, July 5, 2014 -October 26, 2014.

Find Sheila Pree Bright:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/shepreebright
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/sheila-pree-bright/23904503735
Tumblr: http://shepreebright.tumblr.com

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