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Barbie: Frida Kahlo descendants clash with Mattel

March 9, 2018

The artist's family has threatened to take legal action against the toy company over the right to use Kahlo's image in its new Barbie series. They say the doll does not accurately represent the Mexican legend.

Frida Kahlo
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/M. Cinquetti

US toy maker Mattel's announcement on Wednesday that it was making a Barbie doll of legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was met with rejection and possibly a lawsuit by the artist's family. 

The doll was included in Barbie's new "Inspiring Women" collection series, which was released ahead of International Women's Day and featured Kahlo, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and other historic female figures.

Read more: Bones of US aviator Amelia Earhart bones likely identified

The "Inspiring Women" collection: Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo and Katherine Johnson
The "Inspiring Women" collection: Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo and Katherine JohnsonImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Barbie

Kahlo is considered to be one of the great painters of the 20th century, whose most seminal works included her vivid self-portraits. She was known for assertively embracing her Mexican identity and for her unapologetic nonadherence to femininity.

The painter's family issued a statement objecting to the doll, saying that Mara Romeo, great-niece of Frida Kahlo, was the sole owner of the rights of Frida Kahlo's image and that Mattel did not have proper authorization to use it. Romeo threatened to take "necessary measures" against the California-based toymaker.

Read more: The new Barbie series has 'tall, petite and curvy' dolls

Trademark dispute

Mattel responded to the family's statement by asserting that its use of Kahlo's image was lawful. "Mattel has worked in close partnership with the Frida Kahlo Corporation, the owner of all rights related to the name and identity of Frida Kahlo, on the creation of this doll," the company said in a statement.

Read more: Frida Kahlo work sets auction record for artist

Mara Romeo's lawyer Pablo Sangri said that the family had established the Frida Kahlo Corporation in 2005, in partnership with another company called Casablanca Distributors. But the corporation was never granted the rights to Kahlo's image and was in violation of a now-expired contract for failing to inform Kahlo's relatives about the uses of her "brand," Sangri explained to AFP News Agency.

Inaccurately depiction

In addition to the dispute over who owns the rights to the painter's image, critics complained that the Mattel doll does not reflect Kahlo's heavy, nearly conjoined eyebrows, and that her costume does not accurately portray the elaborate Tehuana-style dresses the artist used to wear.

Frida Kahlo: Las Dos Fridas
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Acosta

Mara Romeo wished that the Barbie doll would look more like Frida Kahlo and "not this doll with light-colored eyes," she told AFP. "It should be a doll that represents everything my aunt represented, her strength. It should be a Frida that represents Mexico."

Pablo Sangri clarified that his client is not seeking money, but wants Mattel to consider redesigning the doll.

"We will talk to them about regularizing this situation, and by regularizing I mean talking about the appearance of the doll, its characteristics, the history the doll should have to match what the artist really was," Sangri said.

jcg/rt (AFP, AP)

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