meet barbara segal, the artist carving birkin bags from marble
Celebrating cult fashion items as relics.
Blue Candy, made from Sodalite.
Recently an acquaintance posted an image of one of Barbara Segal's marble Birkin bags on Instagram. In the flood of comments and likes that pooled beneath the picture, strangers debated over its meaning. To some, it was a high-minded comment about the value we place on luxury goods; others saw it as a wry note about consumerism or a literal reflection of the iconic bag's cultural weight.
The work was one of many from the American stone carver. Other offerings include Chanel pieces, Hermes boxes, "leather" jackets, lingerie and children's dresses — all formed from marble, onyx, smeraldo, sodalite and other beautiful minerals. We called her up to talk about why fashion is worth its weight in marble.
Stone carving is so often tied to classical art. How did you come to explore totems of fashion and pop culture through it?
Growing up there was nothing really beautiful around me. When I was 19, I left home to find out who I was and travelled to Europe. During the first week I was there I was blown away by the cathedrals. Europe was just unbelievable, so outside what I had any knowledge of. When I came home the only beautiful thing in our house was my mother's designer clothing.
She used to have clothes made in Vienna; she wore Pucci and those pedal pushers that the fifties women wear with the blonde hair. The only comparison I could make to the cathedrals of Europe was my mother's clothing. I thought, I could make a shirt [of stone,] it was more of an experimental stage rather than knowing exactly what I was commenting on. That was 1985! The difference is now I'm commenting on societal issues and consumerist goods. Before I was just seeing what I could do and how I could do it. But looking back, there's a lot of meaning in all of that work; it's all autobiographical.
By making these luxury products from stone, are you marking a point of comparison between them and the pieces of classical art you experienced in Europe?
For me, it's more about making the comparison between the power of the Church and the power of this status symbol. It's like, what do women pray to? I'm bringing attention to the fact of how important this symbol is in current civilization, in current society. Idols were made from stone, and this is an idol. Somebody wrote that basically, the Birkin is the epitome of an ultra-luxury accessories. When you walk out on the street with a Birkin on your hand it's sort of like a declaration of power, right?
Have you found that people engage more easily with what these items mean when they're presented in a classic art form?
I think that when people look at my work, we ask what these items mean to us. On Instagram, somebody re-posted one of my Birkins and there were eighty-five comments. Some people were like "wow" but there was one woman who said, "Am I the only one who finds this sad?" And I was thinking, 'you get it too.' There is something about it that is sad.
Text Wendy Syfret