Susan R. Kirshenbaum

art and life - both the cherries and the pits

What's YOUR Story?

Susan KirshenbaumComment

At the reception (unconsciously) dressed similarly to the old black and white photo to my right.

Beside the vitrine at the Barbie on the Cusp exhibition reception April 2019 (SF, CA). The vertical photo is the perfect Barbie size!

Beside the vitrine at the Barbie on the Cusp exhibition reception April 2019 (SF, CA). The vertical photo is the perfect Barbie size!

The art book version of the story laid out for reading with a “write your own” notebook next to it.

This is the left entry side wall of the installation rounding the corner with drawings, props, and dolls.

This is another view of the left entry side wall of the installation.

At the reception, there was a video playing of me reading the story.

At the reception Fred and Laurette show off their books.


Mexican ceramic inspiration with genitals, unlike Barbie and her friends.

Researching while traveling in Mexico City in April 2019…Barbie seemed to be everywhere I looked!

Researching while traveling in Mexico City…


Here are a couple of pieces (two different artists) which I saw in May 2019 at the NYC Art Fair. I think they are kindred spirits to my own Barbie art and storytelling. These artists certainly have stories to tell!

Artist: Jemison Faust, “Are You Saying Yes to the Dress #4”

Artist: Jemison Faust, “Are You Saying Yes to the Dress #4”

Artist: Leonore Anthony, “Trophy Wives”

Artist: Leonore Anthony, “Trophy Wives”


My latest art residency consisted of a six-week stint with Black and White Projects at Pacific Felt Factory in San Francisco. I’d love to do more residencies like this! I had a nice little chunk of space to work in and work with right here in SF. I had someone there to choose which project on my list to tackle and that same person to offer suggestions along the way. I was looking for this input as I sometimes feel like I’m working in a vacuum without other artists around sharing space and ideas. My project started out as “A Doll’s House” and developed into “Barbie on the Cusp” (see

Since I already have established my recurring themes I wanted to continue to build on them: feminism, the female form, body love, self-love, personal histories and story-telling, human liberation and expression, censorship, multiple layers and streams of communication, costumes, nudity, the gesture, strong personalities, vivid colors, bold women, our shared humanity, nature as the body and other juxtapositions, plus all that is sensuous without necessarily being sexual.


As I dug deeper into this project and discussed it with friends, I heard stories that I wanted to add to my story. Now I invite you to think about how Barbie affected you. I would like to include a variety of stories (all kinds!) in one of my next Barbie books. I will not include your name and I will lightly edit stories.

Please email me your stories to:


The residency took me down some old art paths that felt new. Digging into my personal history I became focused on the Barbie game I played as a 13-year old. What that would look like as an art project was tough to work out. I don’t have a collection of Barbies, so I put out a call for them and yes - I still need more!

I started by writing and drawing the story digitally. But once I got a box-full of Barbies and had collected an assortment of Barbie-related materials I began visualizing the gallery installation. I had the luxury of space on several walls and a floor - to convert into my Barbieland. I wanted to combine all types of things into an installation that spun off of the basement Barbie game that I played with my 13-year old girlfriends growing up in Pittsburgh in the 60s. And I wanted to illustrate why that tale is still relevant (and not a cliche) today. Barbie has been a popular art and fashion theme for decades, but there’s still a lot of substance there to explore.


Installation art is something I haven’t done in a long time, if ever to this extent. I was thinking about a class from my distant past in video and performance art at SFAI with Howard Fried and Karen Finley. Right after that I had a one-person show which included a performance piece. So I referenced these distant experiences, but I got so excited about the story aspect that I developed a story book in three formats:

  • A small square printed version in an edition of six (Chatbooks)

  • An 8.5 x 11 version ink-jet printed and accordion-folded for display in the center of the exhibition

  • A video of me reading the story

Book jacket of my first limited edition “Barbie on the Cusp” produced in April 2019.

Other elements of the installation included a game board of sorts on the floor, littered with headless dolls in positions that indicated sex and violence , some surrounded by body outlines, all surrounded by hazard tape.

Small headless Barbie doll children crawled up the walls and were rudely taped down. Little piles of dolls on the floor below. Paper mounted around the walls are short-pose life drawings of a model (Tami Tsark) in underwear and odd outfits with props including her interacting with Barbies.


I started the drawing process in my comfort zone, on my iPad (the source for the first book) but I soon moved to drawing on the paper on the walls. This was all about getting out of my comfort zone. I want to draw directly onto the walls next time!

A chapter divider page in the book of the model in gloves, hat, and underwear with Barbies.

A chapter divider page in the book of the model in gloves, hat, and underwear with Barbies.

Here I’m drawing my model, Tami, at the residency studio. Working with short poses as always, but going non-digital this time.


Friends at the reception. Liz (center) made this intricate paper Barbie gown out of art paper she bought from me at another show!


Here a new piece of work: “Pairs: Pink Twins” produced in May 2019.

Inspired by the photos I took of piles of Barbies during my show and my constant picture-taking in the SF Botanical Garden I began a new series of side-by-side photos.



I’ll be away for awhile - in Spain. I’ll be returning in August. Meantime I will post images and updates here and on FB, Instagram, and Patreon.