On Saturday I made my way to Post Houston to see the highly anticipated Black Barbie exhibit. This exhibit, which has been in the works for weeks, showcased Barbie not only as a fashion icon but also as a symbol of artistic expression and cultural diversity.
The organizers of the event made a concerted effort to bring together artists from various backgrounds, both locally and nationally. In a surprising turn, international artists from Canada and Ukraine were also featured, adding a touch of global influence to the exhibition. The collaborative effort demonstrated how Barbie is not only represented through the iconic dolls themselves but also through art sculptures and various other mediums.
Visitors Zakilya Smith and her daughter, Harlem Smith, were drawn to the exhibit after seeing a post about it on Instagram. Harlem was thrilled to discover one of her own Barbie dolls among the collection. This firsthand connection made the experience all the more special for the mother-daughter duo.
“Since we’ve been here, we’ve been blown away. It’s super creative, super beautiful,” Zakilya Smith said. “I didn’t have this exposure when I was growing up. It was all white dolls. My daughter has the Misty Copeland doll. I bought her two of them when they first came out because I wanted her to have a piece of history.”
Justice Blalock and Courtney Weatherspoon stumbled upon the exhibition during their outing and were captivated by the extensive range of Barbies on display. They marveled at the evolution of Barbie throughout history, noting the transition from predominantly white dolls to more diverse representations, including Black and Hispanic Barbies.
Blalock and Weatherspoon reminisced about their first Barbies as children.
“My mom bought me the Brandy Barbie doll when I was 4 years old,” Blalock said.
“My grandmother bought me my first Barbie,” Weatherspoon said. “I had the regular Barbies for a long time and then it was the Brats and then I started to get the Black ones.”
The exhibit featured several notable displays. The anniversary collection showcased milestone dolls, such as the first Black Barbie and the first Hispanic Barbie. The “Dolls Around the World” collection showcased Barbies from various African countries, emphasizing global representation. Career Barbies and super hero Barbies also took center stage, inspiring visitors with their empowering depictions.
The Barbies on display were personal pieces from Michael Williams’ family. Williams’ mother, who had two sons, began collecting Barbies in hopes of one day having a granddaughter to pass them onto. Williams’ son purchased the first Barbie from a store across from the Galleria Mall, and it quickly became a family tradition.
Eventually, Williams’ mother’s wish came true when Williams had a daughter.
“I wanted to make sure my daughter understood the value in these dolls. Maybe this could be something that she would one day be able to pass on to her grandkids. And I wanted her to understand the significance of what her grandmother was buying for her. So, as a family we all began collecting Barbies with my daughter. In the end, there were Barbies to play with and then there was Barbies to collect.
Barbie’s dedication to diversity has been evident from early on, with releases like “Barbie and Friends” and subsequent additions in 1980. The exhibition organizers acknowledged the profound impact of representation on self-perception, emphasizing Barbie’s role in promoting positivity and inclusivity across cultures and races.
One artist, Shalisa, envisioned a future-inspired Barbie influenced by the athletic prowess of Sha’Carri Richardson. Shalisa’s display included styled hair, real nails, and jewelry. Her display captured the essence of empowerment. Shalisa, a talented nail technician, drew inspiration from her own profession to bring this unique vision to life.
Andrea Pitts witnessed the transformative power of these dolls firsthand. Growing up, her mother made sure she and her sister had Barbies that reflected their identities.
“One of the first Barbies I had was from the wonderful world of Shani,” Pitts said. “Shani was pivotal as Barbie grew and became accessible to all girls. Representation was very important for me as a little girl. My mother always bought my sister and I Black dolls. This allowed us to further use our imagination while playing. Barbie had 135 jobs, so I saw that I could do whatever I want to do,” Pitts said.
The Barbie exhibition served as a testament to the enduring influence of this iconic doll. It demonstrated how Barbie has evolved over time to embrace diversity, empower young minds, and inspire generations.