Alum Piper Adonya says Black Barbie Documentary Work is part of a Career Celebrating Diversity

Posted December 5, 2023 in Digital Art and Design, Alumni

Artist Piper Adonya believes all people should be seen and heard.

“That’s why I love creating designs of people of color; everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in art,” said Adonya, a Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University alumna who worked on visual development for “Black Barbie: A Documentary.”

The new film tells the story of how the first Black Barbie came to be in 1980 and introduces viewers to the women who made her happen. It also examines the longtime shortsightedness of a toy industry that never imagined a Black Barbie selling.

Illustration of a Black Barbie doll wearing a pink dress. Text reads "Black Barbie: A Documentary."Image courtesy of the artist.

That battle for representation strikes a deep chord with Adonya, who uses her own illustrations and designs to educate people about the importance of celebrating diversity.

“The sheer amount of time children spend with their dolls is enough to pause and reflect on what those toys look like … and how much the influence of having one that actually looks like you really means,” said Adonya, who graduated in 2018.

“It’s a story that really needed to be told and I’m just so honored to have worked on it. It’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking in some ways.”

Black Barbie” premiered, to widespread acclaim, at this spring’s SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The film was recently acquired by Netflix and Shondaland, the entertainment company behind award-winning series including “Bridgerton” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Netflix hasn’t announced a release date for it.

Adonya began her work on “Black Barbie” a year ago when she was recruited by 9B Collective, the first Black-owned concept art studio. She was asked to create the film’s title card illustration, along with other artwork needs. Already a full-time illustrator and graphic designer at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, the single mother of three worked evenings on the documentary at her Grand Rapids home.

It was the start of a banner year for Adonya.

As the art director and lead designer for this year’s Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts at Meijer Gardens campaign, Adonya had the honor of seeing her artwork featured on a Lexus SUV.

In October, she took part in a panel discussion at the LightBox Expo in Pasadena about balancing kids, career, and personal time in the entertainment industry. The annual expo draws more than 10,000 visitors and showcases the artists who bring today’s films, animation, games, TV shows and illustrations to life.

And this month, she’s featured in ImagineFX, a digital art and fantasy art magazine featuring an eclectic mix of interviews, features, news and reviews with artists and illustrators.

Illustration of three people in various outfits posed in front of a pink background.Image courtesy of the artist.

Adonya and her family moved from Texas to Grand Rapids when she was 8 years old. Even as a child, she loved art.

“I remember watching ‘The Little Mermaid’ for the first time and knowing immediately that one day I was going to draw; I fell in love with it,” she said. “I never had any desire to be anything else. There was no Plan B. It was always art; that was always the only plan.”

After graduating from Union High School, Adonya earned an associate degree at Grand Rapids Community College, got married and had children. A career in art took a backseat until 2014 when she enrolled at KCAD.

“I was working as an administrative assistant at an investment firm, and I knew I couldn’t look at one more Excel spreadsheet,” Adonya said. “Something had to change.”

She graduated from KCAD with honors with a bachelor of fine arts in digital art and design degree, making work that enabled her to explore connections between her creative skills and her study of culture.

Adonya said her Kendall professors always went out of their way to support and encourage her.

“They would push me in a good way to do better,” she said. “They saw what was in me, they believed in me, and that was priceless.”

Adonya said she’s excited for what the future holds, saying whatever she works on will include illustrations advancing diversity and amplifying the voices of people of color.

“I’m as passionate about diversity and people seeing themselves as I am about art,” she said. “No matter what I’m working on, it always weaves itself into my work.”

And she’ll be waiting for “Black Barbie” when it debuts next year on Netflix.

“It’s surreal and an honor being a part of such as an amazing story,” she said. “I can’t wait.”


See more of Piper Adonya's work at and on Instagram @piperadonya.

This story was reported by Beth McKenna for Ferris State University.

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