Inside a Doll's House - Act 4

December 19, 2023
Inside a Doll's House - Act 4
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 artists 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 four 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?
Emily Carris-Duncan: The struggle women face in attempting to find equal ground has been ever evolving with modests gains being clawed back. A Doll's House examines freedom, control in the intimate domestic setting. It is in our intimacies and quiet close moments where the consequences of society are felt the most. Many women experience care and responsibility overload and burnout as they balance home and work responsibilities as well as the economic constraints that can add more stress to life's stresses. 
Barbara Ringer: The current political response to women trying to “having it all” is to scale legal protections down so they “have nothing.” The rights and autonomy gains of the previous decades are under attack.
Jan Brandt: The exhibition is an unveiling reminder of past and present struggles for gender autonomy and encouragement to keep working toward acceptance of individuality, regardless of gender identification in the future. 
In today’s world, what role do you think dolls play? Has that role changed at all in your lifetime?
ECD: I don't know if the role of the doll has changed much. I've always felt a two pronged relationship with the doll. On the one hand it's a typically feminized object that can have a limited or even negative stereotypes projected onto them. On the other hand they are  a blank imagination generation object open to any idea, need, expectation or meaning that can be placed on it meaning that it invites free play which has quite a lot of freedom in it. In a society interested in limited and controlling women's minds and bodies in every aspect. 
BR: The dolls of today are unlike the ones of my childhood. To me the current ones portray society’s expectations in different ways: preternaturally mature, sexy, sassy, status-conscious and luxury-brand savvy.
JB: There are so many types of dolls and the marketing that goes along with them, so I believe many different roles are targeted. I will be 66 in a week, I had one of the first Barbies, Betsey Wetsy, Chatty Cathy, and my favorite, Thumbelina. While Barbie has received a great deal of criticism throughout the years about her unattainable standard of beauty, I was more interested in dressing her, making clothes for her, and role playing with her friend Midge and little sister Skipper. I could play by myself with my dolls and I'm sure I worked through issues while creating conversations amongst my plastic friends. Betsey Wetsy was one of the dolls that I would feed with a bottle, she would "pee," and then I would change her diaper. Were dolls like this an indoctrination into accepting motherhood as the penultimate goal? Probably. I know I couldn't wait to become a Mommy. There was also such a sweetness on the cuddly, scrunched up face of my Baby Thumbellina. I think there has been research that suggests there is an evolutionary pull and endorphin release when one sees a baby. (I'm like that with dogs too!) So the feeling of nurturing and protectiveness with a baby doll seemed comforting to me. I kept my Thumbelina for years and would still feel the pull of my heartstrings when I brought her out. My daughter and her friends really loved American Girl dolls and while expensive, she and her friends would spend hours playing with those dolls and reading the books about each one. Dolls like the "Bratz" collection seemed to nod toward sexualtion, but maybe they appealed to kids that liked that style. When it comes down to it, if allowed, I feel the child makes the doll their own, it becomes what the child needs, and is an opportunity for nurturing and role playing. 
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?
ECD: The feel like an ever enduring symbol of freedom. Particularly, mental freedom that so often ignites the freedom seeking actions. In this post-Dobbs era that feels so bleak, mental freedom is everything. 
BR: I’ve always found dolls to be excellent embodiments of inner thoughts, and am delighted and impressed with the range the exhibition’s artists have brought to the word “doll”.
JB: I wish I could see the show in person, but from the images I have seen, I feel the dolls grouped together feels like a strengthening in numbers, a safe place to be and share stories. Each doll is different, just like the makers, just like all women and girls in the world. 

If dolls are given to girls and boys to help them identify themselves, and their future selves, how does your doll shape that?
ECD: It was important to me to be reflective in the design of the doll becaused the theme requires self reflection. I included a mirror where the face would be on the doll to make sure the person holding it could see themselves physically in the doll reflected back.
BR: My doll has taken on the domestic identity assigned to her but has met violence with violence. 
JB: I would hope the textures, colors, and scale changes (of the flowers in the dress and hair)  in my doll would catch children's interest. Depending on the age of the child, the tactile sensory experience might be most interesting to a younger child, while learning about the quote from Anais Nin might open up feelings in older children. Boys and girls can both benefit from nurturing play with dolls. Some children may notice they are more interested in certain types of dolls and may even alter them accordingly. I believe it is important for children and their psyches to include non judgemental play so they can learn and grow into unique individuals.

Do you have a particular memory of any time you’ve spent with dolls/dollhouses that you carry with you?
ECD:  I am an transracial adoptee  who grew up in a predominantly white environment. Much of my relationship with dolls was searching for one that represented my and my experience. My parents have a crocheted antique black doll I named Lucy that was one of the first reflections of myself in a toy that I can remember. She hung on a wall and seeing her made me feel so alive. it still does. 
BR: Dolls weren’t my pretend children – they were my surrogates. They spoke for me, replaced me, tried to comfort me. A damaged or discarded doll was and is a kindred spirit. I’ve always felt safer talking through dolls.
JB: My Mother was born in Kentucky and was a dollmaker, among many other talents. She grew up during The Depression, in a large family and had to "make do" My Grandmother Rachel made dolls out of old socks, feed sacks, dried apples and cornhusks. My Mother Mable continued these traditions and I was her helper. I was at her side, learning to carve faces out of apples, learning how to soak them in lemon juice to preserve them, collecting corn husks from the field, learning to wrap and tie into figures, embroidery lessons for faces on the sock dolls are remembered, putting thread through a needle was a big accomplishment for little fingers! and making the clothes was a delight. Mom would let me design my dolls as she went ahead and made her own. Hard to imagine better memories for me. Creating, learning from my Mother who learned from her Mother, and the conversations and closeness that occured during these teaching times still seems magical to me. 

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?
ECD:  I hope they see their reflection in the work and are able to meditate on freedom. What it looks like for them personally but also what collective freedom looks like for american women in writ large.
BR: My piece “Don’t Tell me to Smile” is my imagined Nora response to the men she meets after she leaves Helmer. I hope all the artworks in the show compel viewers to question their default responses to women’s issues.
JB: While my doll is one of the smaller pieces in the exhibit, she is big on expression. She has made the decision to fully express herself, blossoming unabashedly, for all to see. The amount of blossoms, growing from tight buds to open flowers, is symbolic of the quest to be herself, to find her own way, as Nora did in "The Doll's House". She is titled " Worth the Risk"  from a quote from Anais Nin. The journey toward self-realization can be exciting, beautiful, and scary. Not knowing how the journey will unfold is risky, especially as the journey will probably fly in the face of society's expectations.  Also, I kept track of the time I spent on the doll- over 100 hours. The time is significant in that it also is a marker for determination toward a goal. Working toward Female Autonomy has been and continues to be a hard fought struggle. I hope viewers may wonder about how long it took to make my doll and recognize the connection between the challenge of finding autonomy and the perseverance of creating her. She is Worth the Risk and Worth the Time as are all of us. 

About the author

Gabe Torres

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