1. The role of art in society
a. We do well to begin by taking note of the fact that all known societies have exhibited a fascination for the beautiful, the symbolic, the imaginative, the figurative, the creative, the artistic. See for instance the variety of fine shapes people, down the ages, have given to vessels, or on the mud walls of rural houses. Think of the fantastic designs woven or knit into items of clothing and linen sheets of every sort. Trees, flowers, birds, animals of every kind, and landscapes, seascapes and skyscapes are all represented; men and women too in their different attire, moods, movements and activities. Pay attention to people’s songs, games and musical instruments, to the stories they tell, the proverbs they fashion, and the plays they stage. The artistic pervades human life and all its phases.
b. Artistic creations are the people’s way:
- of expressing the creative impulse that throbs in the depths of the human;
- of becoming more human and humanly rich and refined through creative relationship with nature and with one another, through communion with the cosmos and through solidarity with fellow beings;
- of expressing social criticism, registering socio-political protest and imaginatively projecting dreams for a humaner future;
- of articulating their experiences, their views and visions, their philosophy of life, their encounter with the Divine and their ultimate hope.
c. societies in which such spiritual ferment keeps seething give birth to great poets, playwrights, musicians and social reformers, to men and women who lead us into new heights and depths of life’s possibilities.
d. In short, art plays a critical, transformative and humanizing role in society by touching and activating not only the head but the heart as well, not only the rational but the affective and the imaginative as well, thus impelling us from within to humanizing commitments.
2. The future of these dolls
a. their future will be similar to the future of all works of art. They will continue to interpret human reality, both personal and social and to call attention to factors that contribute to life’s development or its decay. That is an educative and redemptive service. They will go on moving people to anger, compassion, action, even as Michael Angelo’s pieta does to this day.
b. The socially transformative role of every doll may not endure nor be urgent, but the insight they provide into the human reality, the interpretation that they suggest, and their upholding of human values –these persist and are of permanent significance.
3. The language of the artist
a. The artist’s language is symbolic and suggestive for it attempts to express not so much the unidimensional rational perceptions as the deeper, multidimensional insights into the mystery of the cosmic and the human.
b. a story like that of the good Samaritan, or of the woman weeping at the feet of Jesus, or of the woman pouring precious perfume on his head conveys more of vibrant truth more movingly and directly than could a volume of abstract, academic treatise on religion, theology and spirituality. A look, a flower, a gesture, an image, a word deftly placed in a telling context can say more and can say it better than can a whole string of abstruse phrases and statements.
c. the artist’s language is evocative and figurative because reality, the human person in particular, has depths; and it is to these depths that art points, and seeks to leads us. And further, art and the artist’s language are a text woven inextricably into a context of real life. This is true of the dolls before us.
d. reality has depths because the spirit of God too is involved in its history.
4. What is the doll-maker communicating?
a. the beauty of the common people and their simple life, of the poor in particular.
See the woman caring for her child; the woman cooking; the one making chapattis; the love that throbs beneath life’s ordinariness and the joy of life that pulsates even within wounds and tears is what most of the dolls are trying to share with us.
b. the humiliation and suffering of women and of the poor in general. See a wife being battered, a woman committing suicide, another raped and a boy scavenging in the litter bin.
c. celebration of life despite poverty and suffering. See the dancer and the worshipper.
d. a critique of society and a call for change, pointing to some causes of suffering like greed or will to dominate and control. See the rich merchant getting drunk, and the educational system which kills spontaneity and smothers creative impulses in favour of imitation and conformity.
e. the message in brief is: There is much in our world and society that is positive, promising and beautiful. These must be cultivated and nurtured. While what is stagnant, stunting and corrosive must be discerned and eliminated through gentle, solidary and humanizing interventions.
5. The person of the doll-maker
The maker of these dolls is a simple, unassuming person. She did not make the dolls with a view to publishing books and making a name for herself. The figures were made, few per year to adorn the year’s Christmas crib. It was visitors that found them interesting and expressed their admiration. It was others that found in them meaning and message and paved the way to their exhibitions. Others again that decided to ‘translate’ them into poems, prayers, stories and photo-images and other art forms, thus making the dolls speak.
The dolls speak also of their maker and not only of life and its vicissitudes. They tell us how observant she is, how no detail of dress, ornament, posture or environs escapes her eyes. Delicately sensitive and deeply sympathetic, she registers and reflects in her creations all shades of sorrows, joys, toils and hopes of women and men, young and old, rich and poor. And she is creative: every figure seems spontaneous and has a distinction of its own.
Now that there have been several exhibitions of the dolls and others are in the offing and the public is appreciative and enthusiastic, the doll-maker is willing to devote more time to such creations and to experiment with new styles.
Our best wishes go with you, doll-maker, and we thank you.
~ Samuel Rayan