Barbie Loves Ken, Ken Loves Barbie

Ghada Amer (American, 1963-)

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Two body suits hang from garment hangers. Hand-embroidered red stitches weave across their cotton surfaces, spelling out “Barbie loves Ken” and “Ken loves Barbie.” Styled in “his and her” fashions, these two jumpsuits address certain childhood toys, such as Barbie and Ken dolls, that reinforce traditional gender roles.

Through the title as well as the sewn text, Ghada Amer brings to mind the stereotypically gendered games that children often play. The empty suits prompt viewers to consider the wearers of such outfits and, perhaps, question the longstanding history of such stereotypes.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

This work questions the role of stereotypes-what Ghada Amer refers to as "the idea of the model"-and the various ways they can be interpreted. Amer made two jumpsuits, one noticeably "female" and the other recognizably "male." Embroidered across the suits are the words "Barbie loves Ken" and "Ken loves Barbie." This famous couple may evoke childhood memories of a powerful role-playing game. The fantasy of the perfectly beautiful Barbie meeting the handsome, romantic Ken becomes a stereotypical heterosexual model that many young girls aspire to re-create in their own lives.

Here, though, we have just the suggestion of these emblematic dolls, blown up to life-size. Barbie and Ken are missing, replaced by absent bodies for us to inhabit. But what woman or man could fill these suits, with their loaded childhood dreams? Are these outfits empty because people have abandoned the limitations of these roles? Despite the title of the work, the absence of a female in Barbie's suit or a male in Ken's leaves open the possibility that either gender could choose which one to wear. Amer characteristically resists the rigid gender fixity that these childhood toys rely upon.

The idea of the model to be followed is what interests me in stereotypes; and we are all confronted by this in our lives.
-Ghada Amer, 1994

Object Information

Ghada Amer (American, 1963-)
creation date
canvas, thread, hangers
A) 59-3/4 x 24-1/4 x 4 in.
B) 63 x 24 x 6 in.
accession number
credit line
Ann M. Stack Fund for Contemporary Art in honor of Lisa D. Freiman, Chair, Department of Contemporary Art
© Ghada Amer/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Contemporary Art

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