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Auschwitz Barbie exhibit at Burning Man stuns festival-goers, prompts Anti-Defamation League to speak out
Photo by Serge Attal/Sygma via Getty Images

Auschwitz Barbie exhibit at Burning Man stuns festival-goers, prompts Anti-Defamation League to speak out

What an ugly visual

This year's Burning Man festival included a display of a "Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro" art exhibit.

Many people are now criticizing its creator, 65-year-old Jewish artist James Jacoby, for trivializing the Holocaust.

What are the details of the exhibit?

Barbie dolls were used in the exhibit, which featured many of them marching into an oven, nailed to crosses, and dismembered.

According to The Jewish News of Northern California, the exhibit also featured a sign boasting that it was the "friendliest concentration camp" at Burning Man, and also a banner that read "Arbeit macht plastik frei" ("Work makes plastic free"), a nod to the message inscribed on the gates of Auschwitz, which, when translated, read, "Work makes you free."

The Anti-Defamation League revealed that it had received a variety of complaints about the art installation. Seth Brysk, director of the foundation's San Francisco regional office, said that while people have the right to express themselves, "using that free expression to trivialize the Holocaust for the sake of political, social, or artistic ends is deeply offensive and inappropriate."

"We would ask people not to do so," Brysk added.

"It tarnishes the memories of those who died, including the 6 million Jews and 5 million others," he continued. "Particularly in the current environment, where we have a confluence of survivors no longer around to tell their stories, and increased extremism and hatred, we think it's more important than ever to preserve and respect the memory of the Holocaust."

Has the artist spoken out?

Jacoby told the outlet that the project was a 20-year labor of love, and insisted that he didn't aim to "trigger" anyone with the exhibit.

Arguing that the annual festival is "not a safe space," Jacoby refused to take the installation down.

"It's not Yale University. You don't get to run and hide from something you don't like," Jacoby told the outlet. "There's 1,100 theme camps. If you don't like ours, go to another one."

Jacoby also said that the installation, which he has operated at the annual festival over a period of years, has been successful.

"It's a chance to meet people and have a friendly conversation," he said of the display. "A couple of guys have gotten laid because women come and stop."

"It's a rather sexually charged atmosphere," he added. "You get a chance to engage people."

He later added that much of the yearly event's appeal is that it is offensive.

"Part of the magic of [Burning Man] is that it's not vanilla, Disneyland, pro-family," Jacoby said. "There's a lot of nudity. A lot of sex. A lot of drugs. It's not a family-friendly environment. And our camp isn't, either."

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