Frida Kahlo’s great-niece calls for Barbie doll to be redesigned

The doll should have to match what the artist really was, says lawyer for late Mexican artists great niece

The toymaker Mattel is in a dispute with a distant relative of the late Mexican artist Frida Kahlo over rights to a Frida Barbie doll released as part of the company’s Inspiring Women series.

Kahlo’s great-niece Mara de Anda Romeo said Mattel doesn’t have the rights to use Kahlo’s image.

Pablo Sangri, a lawyer for de Anda Romeo, said his client doesn’t seek money, but wants Mattel to talk about redesigning the doll.

“We will talk to them about regularising this situation, and by regularising 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.

Critics say that the doll is more Barbie-like than Frida-like: that it doesn’t reflect Kahlo’s heavy, nearly conjoined eyebrows, and they say its costume doesn’t accurately portray the elaborate Tehuana-style dresses the artist wore.

Barbie is an American icon that has often been criticised as promoting an unrealistic body image and consumerist lifestyle. Kahlo was a life-long communist who died in 1954 before the doll was introduced.

A photograph of Frida Kahlo from a Victoria & Albert Museum exhibit on the artist. Photograph: Nickolas Muray /V&A/PA

Mattel said in a statement that it worked with the Panama-based Frida Kahlo Corp, “which owns all the rights”.

“The Frida Kahlo Corporation actively participated in the process of designing the doll, Mattel has its permission and a legal contract that grants it the rights to make a doll of the great Frida Kahlo,” the company’s statement said.

The corporation said it got the rights through Kahlo’s niece, Isolda Pinedo Kahlo, more than a decade ago.

The corporation said in a statement that it “celebrates the ideological contributions of Frida Kahlo which have transcended the borders of art and which will influence new generations as a world icon through the Frida Kahlo Barbie, which conserves the essence of Barbie and the legacy of Frida Kahlo.”

Barbie marked International Women’s day on Thursday by choosing 17 modern-day and historic role models to honour with a doll in their likeness.

Among 14 subjects of the brand’s “Shero” programme are Chloe Kim, who won an Olympic gold medal in snowboarding last month at age 17, Bindi Irwin, the Australian -actor and conservationist, the British boxing champion Nicola Adams, the Turkish windsurfing champion Çağla Kubat and the Chinese volleyball champion Hui Ruoqi.

Included in the brand’s Inspiring Women series alongside Kahlo are the pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart and Katherine Johnson, the Nasa mathematician who broke race and gender barriers. Johnson, who is now aged 99, was featured in the recent film Hidden Figures.

These dolls come with educational information about the contributions each has made to society.

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