Leann Edghill is a twenty-three year old Barbadian artist working predominantly with painting. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Barbados Community College in 2015. Edghill is currently a member of two art communities in Barbados: ‘Strokes’, a group of artists that hosts annual art exhibitions, and the Barbados Arts Council. Edghill’s artwork uses monochromatic colour schemes, minimal pop art structures, simplistic shapes and symmetry, breaking down images to minimalist forms.
Her current body of work uses imagery of Barbie dolls, making reference to her childhood, which she inserts into visual representations of major events that have occurred over the years from 1959 (the year Barbie was first introduced) to present day . Although a number of significant historical events have taken place, whether positive or negative, the character of ‘Barbie’ remained unaffected, living her own fantasy with no regard for the world around her or her impact on young girls.
Edghill also has a love for makeup artistry, and has combined this with her skills as a painter to create designs through body-painting, which is another aspect of her artistic practice.
My first week here at Fresh Milk has been very welcoming. The space, the environment and the landscape has quite a refreshing feeling, but I also feel nostalgic about being in the country – except for the smell of nature, which hasn’t been my friend! I am currently sharing my experience with another local artist, Raquel C. Marshall, who is very excited about this journey we are on together. Raquel is very energetic and active, which I find helps me to keep just as active and driven as she is. Even though Raquel has more ideas than I do, we are both touching on similar issues and challenging ourselves in our work. I also met another resident on the farm, theatre artist Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell. He is completing an Emerging Director Residency. Matthew is more tranquil than Raquel and I, but also a very interesting individual, and I am keen to understand the ways in which he views his art.
I came to Fresh Milk with a plan, knowing the types of mediums I wanted to explore. My idea is to continue conducting research on the iconic Barbie figure and historical events that occurred in Barbados, as well as how Barbie is deteriorating today due to modern technology.
Typically, I prefer to paint with a very bold and monochromatic colour scheme in the style of Pop Art. I am considering exploring watercolours, but I have mixed feelings about this approach although I am familiar with the medium. I think I need to allow the medium itself to dictate the artwork, rather than exercising full control over the process.
My second and third weeks on the farm were very productive. I managed to start creating my first piece of artwork, and getting into the process of painting has been delightful. At first, I was off to a rough start, trying to figure out the composition of the piece, but I had a little help from Katherine Kennedy, Fresh Milk’s Communications & Operations Manager, and also my friend Shomari Harrison, who visited me on the platform for a week.
I spent a lot of my time painting in the spacious Colleen Lewis Reading Room, as well as having interesting discussions regarding the different activities that go on here at Fresh Milk and gaining some insight into how the space operates. I also extended my studio hours this week, giving myself time to dig deeper into the development of my work; more ideas keep coming to mind, and I can’t seem to get all of them on paper!
After being at Fresh Milk these past few weeks, and having studio visits with art historian and curator Dr. Allison Thompson and visual artist Ewan Atkinson, both of whom I knew from their roles at Barbados Community College, I am realizing the importance of taking several different approaches to my work and process. Being here has really made me challenge my thoughts and relationship with Barbie, which has been somewhat love-hate for many years. In a way, she is one of my best friends; we have been through a lot together (feminist backlash, issues around careers, family, friends etc.). We did everything together – or was that what Mattel wanted me to believe? Being here has allowed me to consider the doll’s status as an icon, and to reevaluate my connection to Barbie and the corporate powerhouse behind her.
Even though this icon has had major backlash for over fifty years, she still remains an idol to many young girls. I started to illustrate Barbie through simplistic line paintings. Using a minimal colour scheme, I created a different side of her, shifting the focus from just her beauty. I have an obsession with Barbie’s blue eyes and the way that her artificial stare captivates many, including me. I am playing with the contradictory ways her eyes can be read, ranging from innocent to sinister.
By creating melting patterns and distortion on Barbie, I want to question her classic features, and why it is that Mattel has kept this reoccurring imagery to the present day. Although Mattel has shifted with the times to some extent while keeping up with Barbie’s appearance, they have managed to always maintain those baby blue eyes. As I dig deeper into her construction, I realize that my fondness for her compels me to keep her signature look intact, even when attempting to distort her to reveal a different side to her image. It is this nostalgia that prevents me from disfiguring the actual doll; even destroying her as a painting is hard. Perhaps this is an area in which I need to challenge myself personally and artistically, considering the depth of this connection and what might happen if I sever it.
My last week in residence had some challenges, but was also delightful. Being that I spent a lot of my time in The Colleen Lewis Reading Room, I finally painted Barbie’s and her sisters’ bright baby blue eyes that I have been longing to do for quite some time. Battling with my thoughts about how I want to destroy Barbie has been very disturbing, because I can’t seem to come to grips with destroying her image and what she stands for, even though she’s two-dimensional.
While I was here on the farm, Raquel and I saw a cow give birth to her calf in the stable, marking my last week with a very generous ‘Birthing Experience’ that I wish never to encounter before having lunch! The cow was have minor difficulties giving birth and had be given professional assistance to ensure she had a safe delivery.
Nature certainly had an impact on my last week; besides the lizards and insects paying me visits at Fresh Milk, Tropical Storm Matthew came along and caused Barbados to have an island-wide shut down that day. Even though that was a bit upsetting, it really forced and challenged me to think about how I wanted to use the rest of my time in residence. Fresh Milk has opened doors for me and sparked the inspiration that I have been missing for almost a year since I left Barbados Community College (BCC). It really made me dig deeper and question the relationship I have with Barbie, and how much of a role Mattel has played in brainwashing me and other fans into seeing her as more than a doll. The attachment I feel, almost making me regard her as a human being, makes me wonder if I am being abusive by mutilating her.
Having Ewan Atkinson and Dr. Allison Thompson visiting me on the platform has also been very influential on how I should continue to pursue my artwork. As I continue my journey post Fresh Milk, I will keep destroying Barbie and what she stands for gradually, whether it’s by bandage, melting, or vandalizing her actual body.
I want to give a huge thank you to The Central Bank of Barbados for creating this opportunity and allowing artists like myself to be able to share and interact with one another. Even though this opportunity has come to an end, I know that this won’t be my last time at Fresh Milk.