Visual Arts

Busted Babes is a New Look at Barbie

Barbie is hustling like the rest of us.
Barbie is hustling like the rest of us. Photo by Joaquín Vargas and urSek
Barbie, the world-famous doll and cultural icon, is looking to have a pretty good 2023 thanks to a massive film starring Margot Robbie as the titular character. However, there’s always been a slightly broken side to the doll thanks to its history as a consumable item meant for children. What happens to the glamorous Barbie when she is left to rot alongside the other toys and clothes one finds in a thrift store?

Finding out has been the new passion project of Joaquín Vargas and Mandy Trichell aka  urSek. Their photography series, titled Busted Babes, follows a set of decrepit Barbie dolls as they stumble through a life after the one promised on doll boxes.

“It started with a trip to Value Village,” says urSek. “I thought it would be fun to have a busted-up Barbie to take on trips and adventures with me, photograph her in various situations. We immediately hit the jackpot, found the first three dolls grouped together in a plastic bag for something like $3. Named them after Charlie's Angels — Jill, Kelly, and Sabrina. Joaquín was living in Austin at the time, but was down visiting me.

"We took them back to his Airbnb in Montrose and did their first photo shoot there. From there, we've gathered more dolls and accessories from garage sales and thrift stores, including male dolls, and taken them everywhere with us. The project is evolving to more purposeful manipulations and poses of the dolls, ie Joaquín just purchased a light box and has created abstract sculptures with some of the dolls, and I've been arranging them in ‘stories.’”

Busted Babes will be making their debut at Hardy and Nance as part of their 10x10 art show. The show is an excellent chance for local artists to have their first appearances since there is only a $10 fee ($5 per additional piece) to get started. Vargas and urSek will be showing off their photography, though they hope to move into things like dioramas and other physical media in the future.

@thebustedbabes #misfittoys #thriftstorefinds #dollhouse #barbiegirl ♬ Yummy - Justin Bieber
In the meantime, Busted Babes has an Instagram and an oddly compelling TikTok channel. In a pointed parody of influencer culture, the dolls are posed, often seductively, set to pop music. One recent video has a doll being slowly run over by a geared wheel while the theme from Jaws plays. Instagram and TikTok already turn people into props for the latest visual trend. Having the same types of online presences for dolls, which are in serious disrepair and are barely clinging onto their previous shine, says a lot about how we all willingly commodify ourselves for online content.

It’s not all politics and gimmicks, though. Vargas and urSek have a marvelous eye for framing when it comes to their dolls. They are posed so well and shot with such skill that it’s easy to mistake them as human if you’re just scrolling through at a rapid click as the algorithm dictates. It’s only when you stop and realize these aren’t people that a deep discomfort for the way we all consume the human form these days sets in. The babes are busted because the system is, and the breakdown of consumerism is just another outfit Barbie wears well.

Busted Babes is part of the 10x10 Art Show 2023 on Saturday, January 21 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Hardy and Nance Studios, 902 Hardy. For more information, visit Free.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner