Chin Ching Siu

"The Fictional ASIA"

Section MS2, Kelly Spanou

Keywords: body, identity, objects

The Fictional ASIA looks at issues of racial discrimination in relation to the Barbie doll industry. The talk of toys leads me back to my childhood, the early 2000s. My memories of playtime have been closely intertwined with the Barbie enterprise. My curiosity to the dolls directed my attraction to its appearance, which differed from mine, and which I deemed beautiful. Mattel, a Southern Californian toy company launched the fashion doll Barbie in 1959. The plastic figurine was designed as an adult female figure, branded as the ‘ultimate American girl’, and was advertised to children around the world. Being the first doll to be broadcasted in commercials on Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club animated show, Barbie became an icon and an influencer for six decades of children and teenagers. Although Mattel has positioned Barbie as the ultimate American girl, the doll has never been manufactured in the United States. From the 1960s to the early 1970s, to avoid high labour costs these dolls were outsourced and manufactured in Asia, mainly in Japan, India, and Hong Kong. These dolls entered the Asian market in the 1960s, however, it wasn’t until 1981, when Mattel finally released the Oriental Barbie as a part of the “Dolls of the World®” collection. The contradiction between the labour, location and the embodiment of the doll itself – predominantly a blonde or brunette, blue-eyed and light-skinned figure; and the long popularised and accepted blonde barbie within the Asian market, encourages one to question the notion of Asian representation. This project looks at exposing the underlying western influences the Barbie doll and its associated enterprise and media presence has upon Asian cultures and Asian societies throughout the years. ‘The Influence of the Orient’, as branded and advertised on their packaging – the cardboard boxes. This project is a digital advertisement made as a critique for the “Dolls of the World® - Asia” collection – an official Asian ethnic dolls in the Barbie enterprise. Derived from the compilation, isolation, and abstraction of the hidden layers of language, clothing, slogans and graphics, it rethinks the pre-determined ways of understanding and reading packaging through a satirical fictional world of Barbie’s Asia. Finally, reflecting on perpetuating stereotypical ideas, the doll and its package remain a crucial point to understanding how western ideals were implemented onto Asian societies.