Inside a Doll's House - Act 2

November 28, 2023
Inside a Doll's House - Act 2

As the exhibition This is Not a Doll's House continues in our North Miami space, we wanted to give the oppurtunity to shed some light on the finer details you might have missed out on with each artist's work. Their inspirations, the analysis of the original Ibsen play, and their reactions to an ever-changing modern society norm all have major influences on their art, and that gives us great reasoning to prod their minds for the real reasons behind the Doll's House.


This is part two of our interview series, if you'd like to go back to read the answers some of the artists gave in part one, CLICK HERE.

Please tell us how you think the theme of the exhibition reflects the current position of women in our society?
Janet M Mueller: I interpret a "doll's house" as a woman's submissive role in society. Since "this is not a doll's house", the theme of the exhibition to me, reflects women deserving respect and equality.
Kim Moore: I feel like not much has changed regarding the position of women in society. Women are still expected to do all the “house” work, running the household, childcare, etc – while also holding a full-time job/career. Instead of equality, we’re dealing with everything we were already required to do, plus additional expectations. Mothers who stay home with their children are looked down upon, as not fully participating members of society. Mothers who work are bad parents. It’s the “you can’t win game” repeated ad infinitum. And none of this applies to men; men who take care of their children in the same way women do are put on a pedestal. Men who work are admired, and no one judges them for not taking care of their children. Women are burnt out trying to be superwoman – and then blamed for their exhaustion.
Margaret Roleke: Although women's role in society has greatly improved in the last 50 years it is still a patriarchal society. Womens reproductive health is under attack in the United States.By not allowing women to control their own bodies we are moving backwards in this country.
Manju Shandler: I began making this series of work during the #Metoo movement. Empowered by the energy of rebellion I began creating figurative sculptures modelled after my own likeness. I wanted to cease this moment and make truly personal art using first person narratives and myself as the protagonist. Starting with this abstraction of my body that is puppet, doll, or trophy, I am grappling with my role in society as a woman and a mother in a direct and tender way. “The Mother” character in myth and religion has been established as series of architypes that embody society’s expectations of Mothers. As Carl Jung said, these architypes form “treasure in the realm of shadowy thoughts” in our collective unconscious. From Madonna to whore, Kali to Bafana, Gaia to Lilith, mothers are both sacred and terrifying. This series of sculptures explores this mythology. There is power in representation and I hope to empower other mothers to see ourselves as the powerful bad asses we are.
Silvana Soriano: I understand that this discussion about equality and prejudice is, unfortunately, still very current and pertinent. When we promote a reflection on our speeches, our strength and organize ourselves in a consistent voice, I think it is extremely relevant.
In today’s world, what role do you think dolls play? Has that role changed at all in your lifetime?
JMM: I believe that most dolls today play the same role as dolls played in the 1950s. Little girls learn to be nurturers and mommies by cradling dolls. Barbie Dolls, however, show that a girl can be anything she wants career-wise, but also a "material girl in a material world" (Madonna)
KM: I think playing with dolls is important for children for the same reasons it has always been: pretend play stimulates creativity, helps with emotional growth, and provides an outlet to work out real life situations. Playing with dolls teaches children how to care for others, including their future child(ren).
MR: I think dolls and action figures are fine for children to play with. They can be creative and role play.When my first child was born he had a girl doll, it disturbed my then husband and he tried to take it away when my son was in public.My daughter had no interest in dolls.
MS: Dolls have always had a duality for me. On one hand they are a small figure, a “baby”, that must be cared for and treasured. On the other had they are a vehicle to project ones own fantasies onto. I have seen the important function that dolls play as children grow into adults. Toddlers care for babies: bathing, feeding, strolling. I see it as away to process that they are evolving out of that baby stage and are now able to become care takers. As people become young children the need for dolls changes to that of projection and fantasy. Traditionally girls cultivate dolls that embody princesses, fairies, and mermaids. As girls become more sexually aware their dolls become more provocative, with idealized female bodies, make up, hair, and clothing that is hyper feminized and sexually charged. Once women reach child bearing again the need for dolls seems to dissipate, perhaps because we are becoming that longed for identity of “Woman” ? Perhaps because we have created children and we no longer allowed the proxy of a doll? Perhaps because society has encouraged us to embody the Doll ourselves and give up childish things?
SS: I still see a lot of stereotypes in dolls as girls' toys, but they can gain important relevance if we understand that they can often be a symbolic representation of ourselves and in this case can play a healing and reflective role.
We have your individual statements, but now that you have seen images of the installed exhibition, what purpose do you think all of the dolls serve?
JMM:  The exhibition is beautifully curated and I love the theme and the overall look of dolls hanging from the ceiling and sculptures lining the walls. The dolls with words written on them, such as "don't call me (pet name)" or "I don't love you anymore" have strong messages. When I know the titles or concepts of other pieces I will be able to comment further.
KM: I think the dolls in the installation show the multiple different aspects of contemporary womanhood, fraught with (unreachable) expectations and constant judgment (both internal and external).
MR: The dolls serve as stand in for women...each bringing up a different aspect in the life of a woman.
MS: I see the extraordinary exhibition, this is not a dolls house, as a direct rebellion against the idea that women have outgrown the instinct to create and hold proxy figures of themselves and those they want to nurture. The artwork chosen for this exhibition are all totems that are embed with the power of our experience and maturity of cultivated by adult women who have complex experiences and even more complex fantasies. 
SS: They have multiple purposes but all incredibly critical, I would raise two aspects very strongly: Questioning Stereotypes and empowerment.

If dolls are given to girls and boys to help them identify themselves, and their future selves, how does your doll shape that?
JMM:  My doll, "Lies Hurt" illustrates that dishonesty causes great pain. Women, more than men, are betrayed by infidelity and the ensuing lies. In an idealistic world, my doll would enlighten men (and dishonest women) to be better.
KM: My doll carries teaching tools, specifically tools for creating and exploring the world. Children that play with the doll can learn about and use the tools she holds. Dolls also provide a vehicle for role play and pretend play. They can act out situations and stand in for friends, family, or others.
MS: My doll is old crone carrying her home on her back. Her face was created by roughly pressing a clay into the mold of a more realistic depiction of myself. Her posture is bent but her stride is long. She is moving and self sufficient. She is the body I hope to become as I move into elderhood.
SS: Even though I didn't create a doll, I think that the doll of our moment must have space for the child's interference, somehow be able to transition between the feminine and masculine, not like a hermetically sealed label, but with more fluidity and more focus on its symbolic and cultural elements.

Do you have a particular memory of any time you’ve spent with dolls/dollhouses that you carry with you?
JMM:  I have a photo of my grandmother and her 10 grandkids (1956), with my sister and me holding dolls. Mom, aware that my sister and I didn't play with dolls, told me that Dad insisted on giving us dolls each Christmas. To me, dolls represented being "less than", like wearing pink, puff sleeves, ruffles or bows.

My mother was educated and she experienced a career before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She treated my sister, brother and me as equals. Dad had a difficult time with my sister and me because we didn't fit into his vision for girls.

KM: When I was young, my grandfather built a dollhouse for me and my siblings for Christmas one year. He built tiny beds and tables, and my grandmother made quilts for the beds. The dollhouse resided in my bedroom, because my sisters’ bedroom was smaller and had 2 beds. My brother had no interest in the dollhouse, but my middle sister and I loved it. We spent hours making furniture, accessories like polymer clay dishes with food, clothes for the dolls, bedding, etc. When we went on trips, we bought dollhouse accessories as souvenirs. One year, I bought a tiny metal “old-fashioned” phone, another year I got a piano music box. The dollhouse was eventually given to cousins after we grew up; they broke, destroyed, and lost everything in it.
MR: I did have a doll house, but enjoyed mostly decorating and moving the furniture around and adding stickers and designs to the walls.
MS: My grandfather built a dollhouse for me when I was a girl. I cherished the house and slowly filled it with furnishings and homewares, adding built objects that seemed worthy of a family legacy. I believe that experience of creating small objects to create an idealized “home” was the first steps that lead to my career creating theater designs and installations.
SS: It's beautiful to remember my experience with dolls and how they were used to create a community dynamic and solidarity in my games.
I imagined scenarios where they needed to share blankets, clothes and shoes. Even though I didn't experience any extreme situation like being homeless or exiled, these were the situations I often created when I played alone with my dolls.

Can you elaborate on the connection between your piece and the theme of this year’s show? What do you hope folks take away from it?
JMM:  My piece does not show escape from a "doll's house", but rather the pain of remaining inside. I hope that people understand that, in a relationship, if one doesn't receive the love and respect that he or she gives, that it is okay to leave.
KM: I hope that in looking at my doll, people will acknowledge the importance of the parent in teaching the child, whether it’s the mother, father, or non-binary parent. Perhaps if we move away from ideas of motherhood or fatherhood, and instead focus on parenthood, we will be able to remove the stigma attached to what was historically considered women’s work. The male-female gender binary in our society has only ever existed to place women at a lower level than men, to minimize their importance, and downplay their accomplishments; to keep them in a subordinate place.
MR: My piece references the need for women to feel safe in their homes and have control over their bodies.
MS: In our society it has become subversive to be both a culture maker and a mother over 40. Often there is an expectation that mothers must sacrifice our intelligence and ambition once we give birth, that somehow bearing children marginalizes our voices and abilities. The series Persistent Mothers features adult female figures in rebellion against the idea that a mother’s voice and rights must be sacrificed by our gender role. Persistent Mothers are clothed only in their hair, scars, and tattoos. They exhibit the ferial quality of those victorious after battle and the peace of individuals ready to hand the baton to the next generation. Each of these figures, an abstracted likeness of myself, has a unique stance and physicality. They are rendered in half scale to my own body. I hope people connect with that inate human instinct that dolls represent and use this proxy to find compassion and empathy for diversity of experiences.
SS: When creating this piece I imagined something that could protect and strengthen a woman's body carrying messages from other women. At the opening I had a very emotional moment with someone I didn't know who was showing the piece to another friend, she told me she really wanted to use it and when it was time to say goodbye she gave me a hug with her eyes. full of water. I felt so rewarded to feel like I had somehow touched this woman's soul. I hope that people can perceive this affection, this care and at the same time feel empowered. The women who contributed phrases and attended the inauguration were proud and I could tell they felt seen and considered. I realized that an emotional connection happened, it resonated sincerely with some who experienced it. Art has the unique ability to bring people together, spark meaningful conversations and touch the soul. I believe I have achieved these goals and have had a positive impact.

About the author

Gabe Torres

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