Monday, February 22, 2010

Some facts behind 'You Can Shave The Baby': The art of Zbigniew Libera

Our internet is a fun and fascinating tool, but its laziness can be confounding.
Pertinent background information is so often avoided, or eschewed in favor of propagating misinformation.

A small case in point: Images of the oddly hairy baby doll shown below have been circulating on the web for several years now, most often presented as a lone, wacky 'WTF' photo, and almost always with the implication that it was spotted for sale in a marketplace for cheap Asian-produced toys.

Almost never mentioned is that
'You Can Shave The Baby' was never a
consumer item, but rather an art object created in 1995 by Zbigniew Libera, consisting of a set of ten matching dolls in ten matching cardboard boxes.

As described at the Polish artist's website;
"...His works - - photographs, video films, installations, objects and drawings - - piercingly and subversively (in an intellectual way) play with the stereotypes of contemporary culture."

In this vein of presenting 'transformed toys', Libera preceded 'You Can Shave The Baby' with 'Ken's Aunt' in 1994, a similar set of heavier-set Barbie-like dolls wearing unflattering foundation undergarments - -

(click on image to enlarge)

- - he followed in 1996 with perhaps his most famous and controversial work,
'Correcting Device:
LEGO Concentration Camp'

- - Three editions of 7 different highly customized boxed
Lego System sets.

From Zbigniew Libera's Artist's Statement included in an exhibition at The Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota:

"My ability to work with objects is taken from everyday urban contemporary life. In my study of the development of correctional devices and educational toys, I see such devices reveal more about a society and its mechanisms for creating and enforcing its norms than any study of society could.

"'Lego', a construction made partially from various Lego kits, takes us into a village with a mental hospital, Stalin's prison, World War II and Bosnian concentration camps. Thus, I feel I mix historical with contemporary references to represent our world, our little inferno, as built and sanctified by norms.

"'Eroica', is a four-boxed set of toy soldier-sized women figures. They are based on classical models.

"They are a reminder that in the 1990s no toy soldier set is complete without the inclusion of women, who have become the special targets of victimization in genocidal settings such as Bosnia, where rape camps have been well documented. Such is the fashion of 'heroic' actions of armies in genocidal and even less violent encounters where women are victims.

"During an academic conference in Brussels in December, 1997, an agitated audience, who felt that the Lego Concentration Camp was a real toy which was available for sale, demanded that I comment about why I constructed it.

"My response then, as it is now, was:
'I am from Poland. I've been poisoned.'"

- More Zbigniew Libera links are at Wikipedia.


normadesmond said...


i just love stuff like this, so surprising, so uncomfortable. and those smiling skeletons....

his quote, "...i've been poisoned." wonder what he means? when i toured auschwitz, the polish guide kept on reminding us that she was polish, it was the germans that did this.

Unknown said...

Honestly, I enjoyed the " Shave the Baby" photo much more (1000% more!) when I didn't know it was some artist being artsy and deep and profound.

So "Shave the Baby" is just conceptual art.
I despise conceptual art with a passion.

Sometimes mysteries should remain mysteries.

The In Crowd said...

Hi Kurt, thanks for your comment. It's good to be passionate about things, even a list of things you despise, I suppose.

I was well aware I might be ruining the fun for some people. I often appreciate letting a mystery be as well, but going back to my preface, misinformation or a willful avoidance of opportunities to disseminate knowledge seems a disservice to all. Even when it's trivial ephemera, or perhaps especially...

Artsy Artist's Statements aside, who said anything about deep or profound?

The In Crowd said...

Norm A. Desmond! Nice to hear from you again.

Re: "I've been poisoned" - - If I'm understanding your query correctly, I don't think he's talking about complicity. My take is that he's referring to the level of spiritual toxicity one can experience growing up in that part of the world.

mel said...

Tres bizarre...

Toestubber said...

Thanks for the background on "Shave the Baby." Gotta disagree with Kurt - I think that it's just as hilarious when you know the truth. We're talking about shaving a baby here.

LaVonne said...

Interesting stuff! How is it that he did not get sued by Lego?

Cool name, too! I thought Wikipedia would say his real name was something else, but apparently not. If I ever become an artist (fat chance) I think I would like to have an African country as my last name.

Nadie nadie said...

I think I feel Kurt's pain. Most of the conceptual art I had to study as a fine arts student was pretentious rubbish, but like in every other form of art, movies, comics, books, wathever there was always the odd thing that was really great.

The barbies idea I find stupid. The Lego concentration camp and the soldier-sized women figures is brilliant.
And so is his reply at that conference.

Freshly-stirred links