Seniors Stephanie Richardson and Amanda Kidd Schall are compiling an exhibit bound to take you back to simpler times, but with a new lens. Their upcoming show involves toys and seeks to bring many facets into question, such as topics of gender, politics, aesthetics, nostalgia, and identity.
“Recently, Amanda and I have both been thinking a lot about how space and objects demonstrate and influence a person’s identity,” Richardson said. “Looking more critically at toys seemed like a fun way to explore this idea further.”
Their themes are far-reaching, but under the microscope of adolescence, take on an interesting role. “It’s important to reflect on how objects influence our perception of ourselves the world. The marketing and design of consumer products like toys reflects and influences society’s values,” Richardson said.
According to their statement, the display will explore the individual’s relationship with toys, and how they function as more than a plaything. By asking questions such as why or how a certain toy infuriates or pleases an individual, the coordinators are asking us to rethink what role toys have in our lives. Richardson and Schall are calling on students to, “Destroy, create, display, sculpt, alter, draw, and submit your toys!”
Like the majority of individuals, Richardson and Schall both had very memorable childhoods involving toys, and the memories still remain. “I am interested in looking at the past to find clues as to why I turned out the way I did,” Richardson said. “My mother fell into the consumer trap where she believed that buying my brother and me lots of toys would make us happy so we had a quite a large amount of playthings.”
Gender is one of the many topics the two have set out to rethink within the realm of childhood and toys. “I can look back on my childhood and see a clear distinction between my toys and those of my brother,” Richardson said. “He had matchbox cars, I had Polly Pockets. He had plastic army men and I had two American Girl dolls. He got a BMX bike for Christmas and I got a jump rope. I even had girly, pink Leggo’s that emulated his ‘boy-colored’ ones.”
This exhibit is coming at a time when others are also questioning the role toys have in children’s lives, though Mattel’s reconsideration isn’t as positive. The makers of the super-couple Barbie and Ken have decided to celebrate Ken’s 50th birthday by giving him a new look.
According to an LA Times article, “…in a new reality TV show, ‘Genuine Ken: The Search for the Great American Boyfriend,’ eight clean-cut real-life contestants vie to be judged worthy of Barbie: a guy with style who knows how to listen, cook, surf and spoil the material girl with displays of affection.” Mattel is seeking to loosen up the confined personas of Barbie and her “Great American Boyfriend” in order to boost profit for Ken’s half-century birthday.
“The Barbie doll is an obvious example of a toy heavily charged with meaning,” Richardson said. “My Barbies were busty, thin and fashionable. I wanted to be like them and have a steamy romance with Ken. It’s silly, but there’s totally something to analyze and consider there. Her unattainable appearance is normalized and idealized.”
It can’t be denied that gender roles and other conventions are enforced by toys. These objects take on a large role in a child’s life; we get attached and spend a lot of time with them.
“These play items and experiences are only a fraction of what has influenced the development of our identities, but all the same, their significance cannot be denied,” Richardson said. “By reflecting and challenging the hidden or blatant meaning that is hidden or obvious in toys, we can locate societal norms and find out more about how they have influenced the development of the many aspects of our identities.”
The opening reception will be held Tuesday, March 1st at 5 p.m. and the exhibit will remain open in the 2nd floor lounge until March 25th.