Nicolette Bénard

Barbie dolls are an icon of the Western culture. Every girl wants to have them, every girl wants to be one of them. But how dangerous can be to grow up and realise that your body is not as perfect, you hair is not as shiny, your figure is not as gracious? Barbies are a false idols but it’s not easy to understand that you don’t have to be like Barbie to be beautiful if you grew up with that model. Nicolette Bènard deconstructs Barbie ideal beauty and creates pieces as unique as we are, with our quirks and flaws. In her work, Barbies become an expedient to tell multiple stories and encourage people to be original and follow their own path.

In Project B you deconstruct Barbie’s ideal beauty to create something different. You break the standardised model and turn each doll into a unique piece. It seems like you are telling people, especially women, to break free from society’s false idols and be who they are, with their imperfections and flaws. Is that so?

N.B.: In a  way  I do.  Maybe it is good to refer back to the start of this project, it was the Barbie year (2019) when I started to work with the dolls. I was looking for a different way to express myself. In my life I always like to follow my own path. My work reflects this way of life. My work indirectly tells this to other people. Follow your own path! 

In your work, even though humorous and colourful, I perceive also a certain amount of agony. The dolls are buried, pinned, mummified. I feel like you are telling centuries of abuse on women bodies and minds through a funny but still painful approach. Am I right? Is it something that you want to tackle with your practice?

N.B.: Not so directly as you put it here. I do think that a lot of people are not able to follow their own path and specially woman who have all kind of rules they have to follow. Just look at the advertisement everywhere which shout out, you are not okey, BUT you will be if you use our shampoo, cream or whatever product that we think will make you better.  In that sense every Barbie work I make is a statement supporting the idea that you are okey and you are FUN! I use a pearl in every work to honour my mother, a fantastic self-supporting woman who followed her own path and which I dearly loved. You could see the pearl in my work as a token to honour and encourage all people and specially women who follow their own path.   

You are also a jewellery designer and all of your piece, dolls included, are handmade. Can you tell me something more about your technique?

N.B.: As a jeweller I am used to work precise and make a statement with small things. I think the Barbie work appeals to people because they recognise an image of a memory , but they can only recognise it because I am so precise in designing the image with the eyes and hands of a jeweller. My technique is the same as when I work as a jeweller, I built a form around the statement I want to make until I am satisfied. And this work has to be perfect in technique and shape just as the jewels I make.   

How do you choose your materials? Do you start with the design and then look for the right material or is it the other way around?

N. B.: I work from the image in my head, than I look for the materials which I think will suit the statement I want to make, for my girls work I look for soft and also strong in texture material.  I try some materials out, sometimes change the material or shape and go step by step. Once I find the material I like, I can work with this for quite some time and every time find new ways of using the material in my work to make the image stronger.

Since I saw your work for the first time I am dreaming about a huge doll monument to be placed in a city hall square somewhere in the world. Have you ever thought about going on a massive scale?

N.B. Yes that is my dream to. At the moment I am having fun in  experimenting with bigger pieces. A work in progress!  But I need sponsor and a place to make this plan really come to live!

Do you have any specific plan for the future?

N.B. Yes of course, I always have plans otherwise I get bored… Besides making a bigger doll statement, I am also thinking of bringing people in contact with each other through my girls. I am working with the idea to ask the people who own my girl(s) to tell the story of the house were the doll lives. Because Barbie has a house! My plan is to put these stories together, maybe in a book, maybe……..  

Flowergirl, Sculpture, 5.5 W x 13.4 H x 3.9 D in. Courtesy of the Artist
Sweet Sea urchin, Sculpture, 5.5 W x 13.4 H x 3.9 D in. Courtesy of the Artist
Pink Boots, Sculpture, 5.5 W x 9.4 H x 3.9 D in. Courtesy of the Artist
Underwater, Sculpture, 4.7 W x 9.4 H x 3.9 D in. Courtesy of the Artist

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