An art exhibit showing Barbie dolls being abused in a bid to spark a conversation about violence against women and girls has been moved by a gallery after it received complaints.
The work shows images of the children’s toy being kicked by boyfriend Ken, giving birth to an unwanted child, and hanging herself from a tree.
The directors of the Pineapple Black gallery in Middlesbrough’s Hillstreet shopping centre had hoped that the exhibition, created by artist Lidia Lidia, would raise awareness of violence against females and the “realities that a lot of women and young girls actually end up living in”.
But it had to be moved from the premises’ front window after passers-by complained about the graphic images and that fact that children were able to see it.
The gallery’s co-directors, Bobby Benjamin and Stephen Irving, said they had anticipated complaints about the powerful work, but said they still felt it was necessary to show it.
“We were kind of bracing ourselves for a bit of a backlash, we thought there might be complaints, but for us the main thing was that we did not want to betray the artist and compromise her version,” Mr Benjamin said.
He added: “I think that we as a society do push these issues to the back and bury them, people don’t want to talk about these things because then you have to admit that they are happening.
“That is always what we wanted the exhibition to do – to put it in people’s faces. Maybe it isn’t our place to provoke that conversation, but somebody had to.”
The exhibition was first put up on April 10 and was due to run for a fortnight before being removed from the front window on April 18.
Mr Benjamin said that the volume of complaints that were being directed to the shopping centre and to neighbouring stores forced them to act, but said the work would remain on display inside the Pineapple Black gallery until May 11.
He and Mr Irving believe that many of the complaints came from parents taking their children to the shopping centre during the holidays.
But they said that many who had initially displayed reservations about the work had changed their minds when they read an accompanying blurb written by the artist, which explains the piece and the reasons behind it.
Mr Benjamin said: “It is a kind of societal issue, we’re used to things in a very instant way now, and people are interacting with things in a very instant way.
“But sometimes you have to scratch a little bit deeper with certain things.
“To some people art is just something that hangs on a wall, but to Pineapple Black it’s there to provoke and to challenge and to make people think, because those are the things that I want when I go to an art gallery.”
Mr Irving said: “If you just look at it and you don’t understand the context or see what it is that it’s talking about, then why are two Barbies hanging themselves off a tree?
“When you read that it’s because they’ve been raped, and the facts and figures that Lidia backs her work up with, you understand where she’s coming from and appreciate the use of the Barbies and the way that she has exhibited it.
“It’s specifically done with Barbie dolls because Barbie is supposed to be this role-model of what women can be and can achieve, and obviously this is using her in realities that a lot of women and young girls actually end up living in.”
In a statement, Lidia Lidia thanked the co-directors for showing the “somewhat controversial piece”, titled “Girls World” and apologised to people who “found my work uncomfortable and thought it was unnecessary to be displayed in such a location”.
She added: “I am totally aware that my work is provocative and sometimes disturbing but I strongly believe that art nowadays is one of the most powerful tools for shaping a fair and equal society and strong messages are often necessary to have some sort of reaction.”