Material Sensibilities

making space for play across the life course

Political agency of toys

Earlier this month the project team blogged about the political agency of children in relation to images of their dead and suffering bodies. This was prompted by the use of the photo of Syrian refugee, Aylan Kurdi’s, drowned body washed ashore on a Turkish beach in the press and social media.

This week, the Guardian ran a story on the political use of toys through the work of Greek artist, Nikos Papadopoulos. His work includes the recreation of this tragic scene using Playmobil figures, a toy designed for children of Aylan Kurdi’s age. Papadopoulos is quoted as saying:

“With this photo I wanted to remind people that there are no illegal immigrants – only immigrants.”

In another beach scene image, (based on a real photo Papadopoulos saw in the news) Playmobil figures recreate tourists on the island of Kos as refugees arrive by boat. The original photo depicted a woman lying on a sunbed turning away from a mother and child emerging from the sea to avoid refugees ruining her vacation. In Papadopoulos’ version a sunbathing woman in a polka-dot bikini raises her sunglasses to get a closer look at a mother in a red burqa carrying a child to the shore.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 06.35.27

‘It’s a message to those who care only about themselves and don’t give a damn about people who suffer from war.’ Guardian, Tuesday 20 October 2015 

This story speaks to the political agency of toys, objects that carry a peculiar power through: their intimate connection to the innocence of childhood and the vulnerability of the child’s body; the sensorial effect of miniaturisation; and their provocation of, and enrolment in playful practices that can both reproduce and subvert socio-cultural ideas and practices.

Readers may recall earlier posts on this blog detailing my involvement in the Lego-based work of Ian Cook and his followthethings team. This work uses Lego to recreate scenes depicting the often hidden, problematic nature of commodity chains. Recently, Ian’s research has drawn upon the political work of artist, Legofesto. Check out an interview with Legofesto here.

Papadopoulos’ work has achieved additional political significance through moves by the German makers of Playmobil to shut down the fansite displaying his work. Papadopoulos explains this is “on the grounds of trademark infringement and the ‘political’ use of their products”.

Following negotiations with the toy company, the fansite and blog now host a disclaimer that Papadopoulos pictures are ‘not owned, operated, sponsored or authorised by Playmobil’.

Papadopoulos remains defiant: “I should have the right to use a toy that I’ve bought in any way I like without censorship.” “Otherwise it’s like the pen’s inventor forbidding you to write.”

Join the conversation:

Playmobil forbidding artists from using their toys is like Uniball forbidding artists from writing with their pens. Discuss.

(Question originally posted by @followthethings)


2 responses to “Political agency of toys

  1. teamludic October 26, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Reblogged this on Ludic Geopolitics and commented:
    Originally posted on Tara’s research blog.

  2. Pingback: Political agency of toys II | materialsensibilities

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