“I love the satisfaction of repairing and reusing discarded items to give them a new lease on life,” says Sonia Singh, an artist in Tasmania who was featured in news stories around the world last week.

Sonia finds discarded Bratz dolls—the ones that look like freakish, sexy aliens—and repaints their faces with more natural features and takes photos of them doing kid-like stuff in the outdoors. She calls them “tree change” dolls.

Bratz to Tree Change Doll

I thought of her last week as I judged entries in the 2015 Re-Create Art Contest, an annual recycled art competition for K-12 students that’s sponsored by the City of Oakland’s Department of Public Works, and held at the wonderful Pro Arts gallery space downtown. Participants use discarded or reused materials in creative applications of the 4Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot.

This was my second year as a judge, and I continue to be impressed with all the kids’ creativity and the older kids’ interest in making timely political statements. Winning first place in the middle school category was Karina Rojo, whose “Record Player” was made from reused cardboard, plastic, a recycled CD, and Styrofoam. Her artist’s statement included that “even with reused things, music is still beautiful.”

Andrew Chambliss, who was the second place winner in the high school category, constructed lovely flowers from a bike tube, wire, glue, jars and sea wood. He explained, “My artwork illustrates how trash is seen as ugly and kills the environment, but with some work it can produce something earthly in a sense.”

The winners receive art supply sets, theater and museum passes, and are honored at a public reception.

None of the young artists used discarded dolls, but just about everything else was game.  Much of the art made by middle and high school students offered messages about the environment, and many spoke to issues of civil rights and equality.

The public reception was packed with proud kids, parents and grandparents. The young artists were beaming, proud to have their photos taken alongside their work. Selected pieces from the competition will become part of a traveling exhibition to several Oakland Public Library branches.

After being featured in “Time” and “People” magazines and on NBC’s “Today” show, artist Sonia Singh wrote on her Facebook page that she’d been overwhelmed by the media response to her recycled dolls.

“These lil’ fashion dolls have opted for a ‘tree change,’ swapping high-maintenance glitz ’n’ glamour for down-to-earth style,” she wrote on her Tumblr blog.

Is she making a political statement with her recycled “radical make-under” art? You can be the judge of that.


Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.

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