Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Suggested Readings

If you'd like to learn more about the meaning and importance of dolls in various cultures, a suggested reading is Queer Dress and Biased Eyes: The Japanese Doll on the Western Toy Shelf by Judy Shoaf. The article discusses the great variety of dolls in Japan, from high art to folk art. It also details the great importance of the figures to Japan, in not only it's own cultural rituals, but also as a launching point to international relations. As well, it illustrates the influence that Japanese dolls have had on doll manufacturing world-wide, such as the creation of pose-able dolls with hinged limbs. The author discusses many common traits of dolls across cultures, such as the necessity of physical attractiveness in the form and their predisposition “as toys for little girls, which lead their imaginations toward marriage and family life.” (Shoaf, 179) The author does a wonderful job of informing about the way in which dolls are used in Japan, and also manages to discuss the controversy sometimes surrounding dolls, namely whether they are a proper influence on young girls. Furthermore, this article is also about a culture clash, detailing different types of racism (from minor to outright) seen as the dolls cross the ocean and enter the Western World (Shoaf). Dolls are essentially the tangible products of cultural idealism so it is not surprising that they are also the vessel for discrimination. Overall, Shoaf's article manages to be interesting and informing, and gives great insight into the world of Japanese dolls, something this exhibit was not able to aptly cover.

Sherry Brody and Miriam Schapiro's "Dollhouse Room"

Brody, Sherry & Miriam Schapiro. Dollhouse Room. Assemblage.

The show would close with images from Dollhouse Room by Miriam Schapiro and Sherry Brody. Originally part of the Womanhouse art collective, Dollhouse Room was an art piece which featured a full furnished dollhouse into which viewers could peer. While at a glance the dollhouse appears to be serene, closer inspection reveals many dangers lurking in the shadows. Schapiro states that “there are birds pecking at rocks in the seraglio, a rattle snake curled up on the hardwood floor. Outside the nursery window, a grizzly bear stares at the monster in the crib, while the real baby sits near by in an alabaster egg menaced by a scorpion, unmindful of the alligator resting on the shelf in the bookcase. Ten men stare in at the kitchen window, representing a mysterious menace from outside”. (Brody and Schapiro) Dollhouse Room represents the fear that many women are taught to feel towards the outside world while they ignore the dangers hiding within their assigned sphere, their home. Brody, whose delicate lacework garnishes many of the rooms, states that all her art is “inspired by a sense of intimacy”, furthering the initial feelings of safety and security within the house only to make the discovery of hidden hazards more startling. (Brody and Schapiro)
This piece would serve to close the show because of it's important statement on women as dolls and the dangers of following gender roles as opposed to fighting them. It was also an important part of the feminist art movement, and would sustain interest through the exhibit as it is one of the more notorious collections.

Simmons, Laurie. Woman Opening Refrigerator/ Milk to the Right. Photography

Simmons, Laurie. New Bathroom/ Aerial View/ Sunlight. Photograph.

Simmons, Laurie. Pushing Lipstick (Red Lipstick Vertical). Photograph.

Next is a series of photographs from Laurie Simmons' Early Colour Interiors collection. The photographs, taken in 1978-1979, show a doll made to portray the classic housewife, as given away by her hairdo and outfit, in a number of typical 'housewife' scenes, such as cleaning house and cooking. The pictures not only illustrate the expected duties of a housewife, but also the sense of loneliness and isolation felt by many women in that situation. The doll serves to bridge the gap of childhood toy to adult role model, as many of the girls who play with that doll will grow up to be that doll. (Simmons)
Much like the previous collection of Evelyn Davis, Laurie Simmons' work uses dolls as the physical manifestation of societal ideals to demonstrate the many problems which befall a woman when constricted by an arbitrary social contract. Unlike the work of Davis however, Simmons' shows little humour in her work and instead presents a bleak and uncomfortable view into the isolated life of a socially-bound woman

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Akuaba Dolls

Ashanti peoples (Ghana). Akuaba Figure. Wood, beads, string.

As the viewer moves along through the exhibit, the next piece they will come across will be a an Akuaba Doll. Akuaba dolls, made by the Ashanti women of Ghana (West Africa) are traditional fertility dolls which a woman is to carry when hoping to conceive a child, or to help assure the child's physical attractiveness. The doll is carried in the same manner that a baby would be, namely wrapped in a skirt on the mother's back. Much like the Barbie does for Western culture, the Akuaba doll is created to mirror the Akan ideal of beauty, most notably in the large, broad forehead. As well, the rings around the neck symbolize rolls of fat, considered to signify health and beauty. (“Akuaba Figure”)
The displaying of these dolls will provide yet another juxtaposition, though instead of demonstrating difference of personal opinion it will highlight the discourse of cultures. However, it is also useful in showing some of the similarities, chiefly that these dolls are also fashioned to the physical mould of the perfect woman as well as installing the idea of what a proper woman should do: conceive a child.

Evelyn Davis' "Altered Barbie"

Davis, Evelyn. Bulemic Barbie. Photograph.

Davis, Evelyn. Boozin' Barbie. Photograph.

Davis, Evelyn. Boob-Job Barbie. Photograph.

The next collection in Plaything is a series of photographs by Evelyn Davis from the “Altered Barbie” exhibit. The photos imagine a more surrealist side of barbie, the underbelly of the being perfect. Davis uses the altered Barbies to illustrate the many problems created by striving to be the 'ideal woman', from eating disorders to excessive cosmetic surgery. The collection is a provocative piece of social commentary through use of irony, glorifying and marketing something that should be shameful. Ragagli states “I enjoy blurring the lines between commercial work and fine art. Communication is the root of everything we create. I believe my work should take on a socially-conscious medium. The series was a social commentary on the pressures young girls live with growing up in a country obsessed with beauty and fitting in.” (Davis, “Artist Statement”)
The juxtaposition of Davis next to Ragagli means to illustrate and exaggerate the different views that can be shared on the same topic, as well as makes the viewer think critically about the meanings behind both collections.

Judy Ragagli, "Barbie"

Ragagli, Judy. Satin n' Roses. Oil on canvas.

Ragagli, Judy. Brunette Barbie. Oil on canvas.

Ragagli, Judy. Gala Abend. Oil on canvas.

The exhibit opens with the most famous of all the fashion dolls: Barbie. Several portraits of the beloved icon from Judy Ragagli's Barbie collection will be on display as you first enter the exhibit hall. All made from oil on canvas, Ragagli's use of hyperrealism mirrors that of the exaggerated realism that has made Barbie dolls so popular today. Looking as plastic and flawless as ever, Ragagli states that “by presenting Barbie through portraiture, I aim to create a vision of Barbie that is still and noble.” (Ragagli, “Artist Statement”) Barbie has without a doubt captured the mind and hearts of millions of people throughout the world, and Ragagli's clear admiration for the doll comes through in the soft, feminine light in which the doll is portrayed. Ragagli says of her collection, “my goal is to pay homage to this surviving icon of modernity, femininity, and style. I want my viewers to recognize Barbie as an important and positive influence withing American society on both the individual and aggregate levels.” (Ragagli)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Plaything: Women and their Dolls

Plaything: Women and their Dolls attempts to show the various ways in which women manipulate the idea of a doll and its purposes. Dolls have been an engrained portion of females' upbringing for millenniums, with the earliest known doll dating back to 3000 BC. Dolls have been used for many different purposes over the years, from serving as a fertility charm to modelling high fashion, however the one commonality between them is their application as a surrogate to the owner. Always displaying the feminine ideal through highlighting the importance of devoted motherhood (as seen with baby dolls) or physical perfection (as seen with fashion dolls), dolls allow one to experience being the 'immaculate woman' through fantasy. Not only do they install a sense of what a woman “should be” at an early age, they also depict females as literal objects with no duties outside of raising children and looking good. Plaything: Women and their Dolls is a collective view of the use of dolls throughout art and culture, shedding light on the importance of, and problems with, every girl's favourite toy.