Creating dolls is one of the earliest forms of African art. Since ancient times these dolls have conveyed cultural values and have indicated a society’s standards of beauty. They have been used as spiritual tools for ritual purposes or icons for worship. They’ve also been used for teaching and as medicine. In modern times we commonly think of dolls as simple play things for little girls, but even the mass-produced dolls we give to our girls today are, in fact, objects of a subtle, subconscious, yet powerful type of worship. They, like their ancient predecessors, impart culture and societal values from one generation to the next.
There is a rich history of hand-made dolls in Africa and the African diaspora. When manufacturers would not mass produce black dolls and popular representation of black people was unfailingly demeaning, we made dolls in our own image. We made them out of sticks or scrap fabric. We improvised them from discarded wall paper and chimney soot or parts from mass produced white dolls. We made them at home, by hand and for each other.
The modern-day manifestation of this cultural phenomenon is the trend amongst black women toward modifying mass produced black dolls. The straight hair of mass produced black dolls is replaced with Afros, braids, locks and cornrows. Clothes are replaced so that the dolls better reflect the culture, self-image and values of the modifiers.
The Black Doll Project is better understood within this historic and cultural context.
I choose to sculpt dolls because they’re inherently powerful. They reach deeper into the human psyche than the type of objects we traditionally label as sculpture. In this project I use dolls to promote my values concerning beauty, blackness, womanhood sexuality and power. I use black dolls to explore a traditionally African approach to object making where the line between seemingly mundane objects, art, spiritual tools, and medicine are non-existent. Each doll is functioning simultaneously as a toy, a teacher, a medicine and a weapon. They cause the viewer, regardless of race or gender, to revisit childhood, revise mental programming, PLAY and heal. Every doll imparts a lesson to the viewer and to me as the creator. They celebrate and deify the universal Black woman. When I assemble the segmented body of a doll I am reenacting the ancient tale of the resurrection of Osiris. I remember and restore the divine in the form of the Black woman.
Dolls are small replicas of the human body and I love to use the human body as an artistic subject. My exploration of the human body goes far beyond its superficial form. I’ve conducted biological research on the human body. I’ve explored esoteric and mystical attributes of the human body. This project is my latest adventure with the human body. In it I use black dolls to reclaim the Black female body.