SDSU student showcases gendered-toy exhibit

by Caitlin Johnson

04_22_13_Features_Toys_JOOff the coast of imagination in a sea of creativity lie the Toy Isles, a collection of islands home to some of the world’s most beloved toys. For years, they remained isolated from the mainland, a nation segregated by the stereotypical gender values of society. Recent discovery of the islands led to the questioning of the impact of such values on children today.

This is the fictional premise of “Discover the Toy (A)Isles,” a thesis exhibition created by San Diego State art master’s student Courtney Harmon. Located in SDSU’s Everett Gee Jackson Gallery, the exhibit explores the polarization of children’s toys through interactive works
of art.


Entering the gallery is like stepping into another world. Crisp and colorful vector art adorns the walls, bringing Harmon’s well-versed thesis to life in an animated presentation of artistic ability. The bright colors recall happy feelings of childhood, as viewers are drawn into the land of the toys that creates a facade of carefree discovery that masks the underlying suppression of the fictional world. Guests are invited to enjoy the multitude of features and encouraged to engage with the
different displays.

The exhibit, which took place last Saturday, follows the imaginary uncovering of the Toy Isles. Visitors are greeted with colorful maps and visualizations of the islands. A timeline draws viewers into the islands’ history, and graphic displays unveil the daily lives and processes of the islands’ inhabitants. The entire exhibit comes together cleverly and reflects the real-world sociological implications of such polarization and its effects
on children.


“It was very interesting,” nursing senior Alyson Merz said. “I think everyone thinks a lot about (this topic) but they don’t have the guts to say it.”

The project began four years ago, when Harmon first focused on the topic of the gender division of children through various marketing strategies. The idea for the exhibition took root early last fall. She emphasizes the overabundance of hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine toys commonly found in stores, and the “opposing play narratives” the toys suggest.

“Today, you don’t really find a broad spectrum of interest represented in the toy stores,” Harmon said. “It’s an interesting social issue that not a whole lot of people are talking about.”

Harmon hopes to use her developed skills as a graphic artist to bring this issue to the public’s attention. She said advancements society has made in gender equality are continually stifled by the association of “boy-only” and “girl-only” toys, and she wants to shed light on the issue through this exhibition and her future work.

“What I’m really hoping for is an awareness of the issue and maybe even create a demand for different choices in the market,” Harmon said.

One part of the exhibit features a sort of call to action, encouraging guests to think about the issue beyond the gallery. A kiosk with the heading, “Voice Your Concerns” prompts Twitter users to share the hashtag “#toyprotest” and follow the gallery’s official Twitter account.

Harmon is already off to a tremendous start. Her ability to collectively organize her thoughts and bring them to life in such a positive manner are what makes the exhibit so engaging. Explore the Toy Isles for yourself and see just how much of an impact the idea of a toy can have. The gallery is open for the rest of the week, so don’t hesitate to experience it for yourself.