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Limbé Dolls Blog

Leon Damas’ refrain, “give me back my black dolls” expresses my longing for the African cultural heritage lost in the Middle Passage. I took the title of the blog I started in 2011 from Damas' 1937 poem, “Limbé,” and hope to project positive images of people of color through the serious business of doll play.  My desire to animate the figures I used in my videos led me to puppetry so more recent posts have explored the role of puppets as well as dolls in defining cultural identity.

“I-DOLL-atry: Part Two”

While women’s socio-economic disempowerment heavily influences the context for the creation and appreciation of art dolls, the dolls themselves can be emblems of great feminine power representing ancient goddesses, saints, or legendary sheroes.  Many religious traditions have used statues and paintings to focus attention on attributes of the divine.  Veneration, regarding such images with reverence and respect, is a mode of contemplation that enables devotees to experience the presence of spirit more immediately. 

"In the Eye of the Beholder"

When I took the opportunity to ask Lisa LIchtenfels about the difference or relationship between dolls and puppets, she had a very interesting answer.  She said that in German tradition “puppen” is the reflection of yourself that you see in the pupils of another person’s eyes when you are looking intimately into their eyes.  A doll is a still version of the puppen while a puppet is a moving image.  So I concluded that a puppen/ poppet/ puppet reflects both the image we have of ourselves and the image of ourselves we want others to see.  I grappled with this mirroring process as I shaped the puppet I made in Lisa’s class.

“Exploring the Phyllis Hirsch Boyson Artifact Collection”

Black Marionette c. 1930 from the Phyllis Hirsch Boyson Artifact Collection at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut


Phyllis Hirsch Boyson Boyson trained as a teacher in the mid 1950s.  She loved sharing folk tales from different cultures with her students and frequently used puppets to help act them out. When she passed away, her family donated over 100 boxes of artifacts and about 6,000 monographs to the Northeast Children's Literature Collection at the University of Connecticut.

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Race and Class

"In My Mind's Eye"

In your mind’s eye, what color are your doll characters?  

When I was growing up most of the dolls available for purchase where white and so most of the dolls I played with were white.  In my teens I wondered for a while if identifying with so many characters who didn’t look like me made me an oreo.  

“My First Doll Show 6”

...a significant number of the doll artists I met at the Atlanta Doll Collectors’ annual doll show on May 7th started as quilters.  Quilting is one of the American decorative arts in which a continuous carry-over of visual rhythms from traditional African motifs persists.  Thus, when quilters turn their design eye to three dimensional figurative pieces, they draw on both consciously chosen and ancestral links with African art.

"Gambina Dolls Protest"

Tuesday December 27, 1988

I thought of New Orleans as a place I could settle.  I couldn’t live here.  Not with all those pickaninnies grinning in my face every time I turn the corner.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the cards that come with the dolls didn’t romanticize the slave experience...

“Proletarian Princesses”

The sisters know that nobility of character rather than wealth or privilege is the true mark of a princess.  So they both intend to live happily ever after, with or without the prince.

“Santa’s Elves”

...the use of part-time employees who aren’t eligible for health care or pension benefits to cut labor costs is a growing trend.  In an October 27th article for The New York Times, Steven Greenhouse cited cases of retail workers being randomly scheduled for shifts as short as two hours  (accessed 11/27/12).  Not being able to count on a regular schedule, such part-time workers cannot make stable child care arrangements, take second jobs, or attend school to improve their skills and marketability.  Yet some retailers routinely add more part time workers rather than offering existing employees more hours when customer traffic increases.  Fortunately Toys R Us does not seem to engage in such practices.  

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Pink Power? -- part 3

In the Nokia N8 Pink “Freedom” video, the dolls perform in front of a bank of phone screens that would stand four stories high in 1:1 scale and the video ends with the main doll dancer framed in a double mandala of Nokia N8 Pink phones that display her image on screen.  Is she a fetishized object of the male gaze?  Or does the phone serve as a mirror that allows the user to take pleasure in her own to-be-looked-at-ness?  79 Flickr groups are devoted to cell phone self-portraits including one for women photographers who upload cell phone shots of their own cleavage.  

“I Like ‘em Big and Stupid”

Up until the 1950s, heavy muscles were associated with working class men who did hard physical labor for a living.  While weightlifting made its debut as an Olympic sport in the 1896 summer games in Athens, and professional strong men like the Great Sandow began attracting audiences on the vaudeville circuit in the early 20th century, for most middle and upper class Americans, the ideal male physique was lean and defined but not bulked up...Thus, while the original GI Joe had a more robust physique than Ken, he was still a lightweight compared to Big Jim, despite his superior height.

“Little Play Soldiers”

One day when I was about five years old, (circa 1967 or ’68), my parents solemnly gathered up the arsenal of toy guns we had accumulated in our short lives including the cap gun and the shiny, pearl handled pistols that came with our Sears and Roebuck cowgirl and cowboy costumes and confiscated them all.  In addition to the increasing groundswell of protest against the Vietnam War, they may have been influenced by a growing movement among American parents to stop the proliferation of war toys.  

“I’ve Got a Tough Mission for You: Selling War Toys to Pacifist Parents”

“Is your GI Joe ready for duty aboard a carrier? … Is he equipped with the new firefighter’s set, special heat suit, hood, accessory belt, and fire extinguisher?  Is he ready to go into space with the new astronaut capsule and space suit?”  The deck commander presumably uses his signal paddles and helmet with earphones to help aircraft land safely while firefighters routinely risk their lives to save those in danger.  None of the three sets includes a gun so while Hasbro presented their action figure in thoroughly masculine pursuits, he is devoted to the preservation of life.  There was nothing in this commercial to associate G.I. Joe with war and killing.

“You Are the Queen of Your Home”

From our 21st century vantage point, the gender role stereotyping in this vintage Suzy Homemaker commercial is laughable.  As feminists of the 1970s pointed out, these toys trained girls for traditional roles as housewives.  The miniature washers, dryers, and vacuum cleaners indoctrinated us into accepting housework as our primary responsibility.  Yet the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics reports that by the mid 1980s, when most of the young girls who grew up playing with Suzy Homemaker toys were old enough to enter the workforce, more than 50% of women with children under the age of six worked outside the home. 

“A Modest Muslim Girl”

"Hmm.  What should I wear today?"  The weather has been sultry so she selects a breezy t-shirt dress.  She especially likes the grapes stenciled at the hem.  Next she sits on the bed to slip on matching purple shoes.  Then she crosses to her dressing table and starts tucking her hair up.  Her hijab continues the grape theme with a purple border.  Once she has donned her ababya, she tucks her school books under her arm and heads out.  Since it is Ramadan she will pray at the mosque before class instead of stopping for breakfast.  Fulla knows her mind should be focused on more spiritual concerns but she can't help feeling pleased with the purse that completes her ensemble.

“Dressed for Success”

Ever since Angela Bassett portrayed Sister Betty Shabbaz in “X,” I have admired the dignity and elegance that some Muslim sisters project in their modest dress.  Indeed, in the late 90s,Essence magazine did a photo story featuring Muslim fashions – anticipating by several years the florescence of hijab style, which in some cases has evolved to the point of effectively calling attention to the feminine charms it is supposed to conceal...Women’s motivations for wearing hijab are highly individual and complex.  In this post my models represent a range of reasons why westernized professional women may choose to adopt modest dress.

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