Dolls in Life’s Musings
As a child I loved to play with dolls. I dressed and undressed them, bathed and nurtured them. I treasured each one of them in my childhood days.
I was sixteen when a sickness threatened my life. I was confined to bed for months. It was during this time that I started creating my own little dolls with the material my mother gave me. While struggling between life and death, I could sense the rhyme and rhythm of life streaming out from my heart into the dolls I created! Each doll I made became colorful and alive. They evoked experiences and stories in my life’s musings. Thus they slowly grew into expressions of my playful imagination. Some found me withdrawn. They began to say: “She speaks to her dolls, not to us!” But I found ‘treasures’ in my silent conversation with my ‘dolls’. A learning process commenced, unself-consciously, through endless imaginings, intuitions and dreams within me. I began to listen to the ‘cry’, ‘laughter’, ‘play’ of life along with my dolls. My loneliness became solitude in the company of the dolls. In the womb of solitude a profound self-surrender to the mystery of life subtly welled up within my inner being.
With the doll, there is play. What a joy to bathe the doll, to dress it up, and to feed it. It is through the doll’s play that the deepest nature of the child is revealed in self discovery and discovery of others. Here the doll is a door-way inviting the child to care and to nurture. Dolls are to be seen as one of the primal expressions of the playful imagination. It is this imagination that remains and can grow with us as we mature. It can give us the means to be in touch with our deepest emotions. Dolls represent the inner spirit, a voice of the inner consciousness.
The dolls of which we speak here do not have lips to speak and eyes to see with; their body expression, their whole condition -their position: sitting, squatting, bending, kneeling, lying or standing, the clothes they wear, and the environment in which they are set-, tell us a story. They evoke, through their body language: joy, grandeur, grief, despair and emotions which cannot be captured with words. What is novel in these dolls is the miniature world they represent enacting what is believed to happen in the larger world. They convey to us a concern for those on the margins of society. They express a vision and a longing for a better world.
Years after I discovered my creativity, I was called to live my religious life in
. The simple way of village life fascinated me: little girls leading the sheep to green pasture and mountain streams, women who deck their tresses with fragrant buds, children with scant resources fashioning things from scraps and wastes to play with, men who nurture trees and prune them, the flower-man on the bicycle. Familiar sights such as women carrying vegetables in hand-made palm-leaf baskets and water in pots and jars, women learning to write their names or weaving bamboo baskets, men in the street corner ironing crumpled clothes or beating the drum in harmony with the earth around, have also touched me. Translated into the creative spirit behind these dolls, my fascination became an aesthetic experience. I work at night when everything is calm and peaceful; at night in silence, solitude and tranquility of heart; at night when the secret face of the day’s reality purifies. Then in the dark of the night as the dolls take shape and come alive I seek the secret of people’s pain and celebration. India
The material I use are ordinary: a variety of colourful cloth called feutre; raphia (strong paper ribbons); pipe-cleaners; cotton balls for heads; wool; thread and discarded bobbins; banana and coconut fiber; palm leaves; bamboo; pieces of wood; small boxes and similar throw-away items. Gold and silver threads make a variety of jewelry. Sometimes I make use of small ready-made toys or art pieces such as a sewing machine or a harp. Tiny props used to create an environment have a story on their own. Thread and gum hold the figure together.
In the course of time, the experience of life in India, the situations I found people in, the day-to-day events, the social commitment of friends and companions, and my own reflections and insights from life, gave more meaning and purposeful depth to the creation of dolls. They began to reflect Indian life not only with its breath-taking variety and unique beauty, but life with its gripping and enduring tragedies.
A New Language of Songs of Joy and Sorrow
The dolls are my language.
They tell us what it means to search each day for scraps with which to survive the next day and what it means to work hard the whole day and walk a long way just for a pot of water for your thirsty little daughter. They tell us what it means to stretch out your tired body on the hard pavement as your bed and what it means to be a victim of battering, even to the point of having shattered bones or broken teeth. They tell us of genocide, of the endless column of homeless people making their way nowhere. They tell us what it means to lose your dignity, your roots and identity, to lose your land and your job, your childhood and livelihood and your humanity.
They tell us that such people are still resourceful and have vitality, still struggle for dignity, still hold on to values of sharing and compassion. They tell us about the beauty and love that throb beneath the ordinariness and boredom of their lives and struggle for survival. The joy of life pulsates within their wounds and tears.
My dolls are an expression of the long process of my integration into the Indian reality. Each has its story to tell, each one has a meaning for me.
They tell that there is still beauty in this broken, often brutal and damaged world, a beauty I received and made my own. They embody and express something of my experiences, search, and questions, of my dreams, hopes and discoveries, of my tears, protests, anger, prayer and celebrations. They are a part of me and I, a part of them.
Perhaps dolls like these could help people recall their history of resistance to oppression and their struggle for life and dignity. They could invite us to join hands across the world in dissent against further destruction of all living things and of Mother Earth herself. They could offer us new depths in our understanding of the mystery of relationship to one another, to the earth and to the Divine.
My dolls are images, inviting us to new insights and fresh commitments and reminding us that it is from the depths of people’s cry for justice and freedom, for peace and life that God speaks to us.
The Experiential Warmth of the Dolls
The experiential warmth of the dolls is a reason for their appeal to so many who encounter them during exhibitions in and outside
Those who view them say that these dolls speak a thousand words. “They are about people forgotten in our memory. Though silent, they eloquently give them a voice. Though static, they bring a deep insight into day-to-day life with all its hues, charms and sorrows.”
Many express the feeling that these dolls bring tears to their eyes, kindle their thoughts and wake them from their slumber. One is drawn into (re-)discovering one’s own compassionate depth. Others say that these dolls play a critical, transformative and humanizing role in society by touching and activating not only the head but the heart too. They not only speak to the rational but to the affective; pondering over each of them will linger in their memory.
Viewers also say that existing perceptions and notions of morality and preconceived social values and practices are being challenged in a novel way, thus impelling them from within to humanizing commitments. The dolls invite them to face uncomfortable and pertinent questions on social inequality, on the ongoing process of brutal dispossession on a scale that has few parallels in history.
Following the exhibition in Fu Jen university Taipei, a teacher writes that the questions of her graduate students and even their tears tell her how powerful the language of the dolls is, raising deep questions ranging from the cry of the poor to globalization, from consumerism and economic development to social responsibility, from power politics to ecological concerns, from the plight of women to social movements and solidarity, in the spirit of hope, believing that a better world is possible.
The few workshops organized in
for peasant women traveling from far away villages call for particular attention. The women looking at the dolls, absorbed in their silence began to break their own silence, telling their pain, narrating their stories, sharing their dreams. Through the dolls they made with local material, rags and wastes, a new story of women received validity. Potosi
The expectation of few other workshops has been that by evoking one’s inner world through doll making a healing process would be initiated and would help women to come to terms with their feelings of brokenness. That which would be enacted on a miniature scale is believed to happen in the larger world as well. These dolls would convey a social concern and critic –here the violence on women and all forms of violence- registering a protest and projecting dreams for a humane future.
Women - in prostitution and women victims of dowry violence and child marriage - very soon communicated their deepest self through the dolls they created, placing them with other miniature objects in a specific environment.
The body language of the dolls for sure evoked a story of their lives. They became like people with lives of their own, expressing their sufferings which speak to our hearts. On the saying of the doll makers themselves, once absorbed in creating dolls they experienced freedom of mind letting go their daily pains and sufferings. The doll making process has been a liberative experience because they discovered with a sense of pride their ability to create something they could admire which also has a message to convey.
Viewers are saying that “Through these dolls, God is speaking, God is challenging. Truth is speaking. Dolls here are like prophets who speak sharply to the people of our times. What is important is that believers of diverse religions irrespective of their being Hindu, Muslim or Christian, Sikh or atheist, respond to this novel way of striking a note of compassion in their heart and making them aware of their oneness.” “The dolls may have a different message for different people in different situations and people of diverse faiths. Or the same word may be heard, interpreted and expressed in various ways by many kinds of listeners. However, the invitation that is addressed to everyone to look, to ponder, to seek and to act still stands.”
Rhyming for Life
The best way to assess the social, human and spiritual message that the dolls convey is the poetry, prose and spiritual writings which some committed people have written. They found meaning and were inspired by the dolls. It is often the narrative the doll suggests that brings the writer to tell his/her own narrative.
Many of those writings can be found in the two earlier books: “The Dolls Speak” and “Through the Needle’s Eye; Everyday Life of Everyday People.”
The experience of creating dolls has been for me a way of exploring and deepening my own faith. But a Jesus figure? I had never felt the need to create a Jesus figure except that of the infant Jesus for a Christmas crib. The Risen Jesus is here and everywhere in the heart of human realities. He is everywhere reminding us of God’s purpose in creating this marvelous earth and echoing God’s challenging question: “Where is your sister? Where is your brother?” and expressing God’s anger and tears for the numberless wounded and crucified children. Jesus is here to strengthen every voice raised against injustice and oppression.
For the last eight years I have been creating iconic dolls as an expression of Jesus’ Gospel, in which Jesus the great witness of the Unspeakable Divine Mystery reveals his story. It’s also a Gospel rooted in the culture of the people and their sacred stories.
Of little things,
Of toiling men and women are your stories.
My dolls are silent
On the ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ who glory
In power and pomp
And the things they own and possess.
My dolls depict the world’s neglected
And their daily lives.
These Dolls are my craft and art and prayer,
Through them I seek to unfold life layer by layer;
Life as lived in today’s globalizing world,
Where wealth presides and hearts are cold.
A Uniqueness to be Shared
“From all sacred scriptures of all communities and cultures, from ancient wisdoms, a unique Light springs that illumines the spirit and guides and directs us towards healing, wholeness and eternal bliss.”
God, Creator and Giver of life calls us to discern what He/She has been doing -in history, and what He/She is doing today here and everywhere-, to guide us to the path of love and compassion, forgiveness and freedom, justice and peace.
Is there something unique to be shared about Jesus? What is his story?
But why has the story of Jesus, a marvelous, sublime Asian story, not had a wider impact on people around? Was the story so much associated and interpreted through a western imperialistic mindset, so much connected with doctrines and abstract concepts? Now at this critical time many have looked afresh at the story of Jesus. Having realized the impact of the ‘Speaking Dolls’ on people’s mind and heart, I wished to narrate the story of Jesus in a novel way that opens to the universal, the cosmic and to people’s deepest dream for a finer humanity.
I came to understand that people of other faiths love the stories of Jesus because He is a source of life, a friend of life who brings grace to anyone who approaches him and journeys with him. Jesus is welcomed. He touches the wounded hearts of numerous people. In Jesus, God’s creative energy, Gods Motherly and Fatherly heart is revealed. It was this realization that convinced me to re-tell the story of Jesus through dolls in the context of the life I see around me. This offers a possibility of dialogue not only with the rich cultural and religious diversity of
but also with the reality of massive poverty. India
Artistic Beauty, a Journey to the Divine
“Creation is the dance and music of the Divine playfulness disclosing her love for us. This universe of ours is Divine freedom bursting into song and breaking into graceful movement. The delightful story of Jesus merges with the Divine playfulness. The measure of our wholeness is the measure of our song and dance chiming with the Divine.”
When our eyes are graced with awe, the world reveals it’s wonders to us even in the cracks and pain of our lives. The awakening to beauty invites us to look on all things with surprise, sustained attention and loving gaze. In beauty we discover the face of God and the brokenness of our experiences.
The process of my artistic imagination in creating dolls is much like a spiritual journey; a pilgrimage towards one’s interior being. A sense of play develops that transforms the raw material I use for creating dolls into stories of Jesus’ life.
Retelling the Story of Jesus through Dolls
Interacting with our sacred but wounded world, we will be forced to raise sharp questions about our values, traditions and beliefs, our class, caste and gender divides, about hierarchies and titles, powers and violence, comforts and greed.
With a great sense of sadness we recall that four hundred million of our people are illiterate and live in absolute poverty; a situation of violence and inhumanity.
The story of Jesus as ‘The Parable of God’ invites us to become rooted in the culture of the people. We may ask whose culture? The culture of the elite groups and their world-views? Or the culture shaped by tribal stories and dalit struggles, by the wisdom and suffering of men and women and of loving fathers and mothers? Or the culture of mass media that often promotes consumerism and violence? Or the counter-culture that resists all forms of oppression and destruction? The decisive answer to this question comes from our vision, our values, our commitment, our faith in God’s Reign of freedom and justice, our knowledge and experience of Jesus and his options.
Indeed, Jesus knew that he had been sent to take charge of the situation, to initiate a change and to challenge people to go on, transforming darkness and death in the direction of life and creative responsibility. He made his option, identifying himself with the lowly and the poor and to be one with the hungry, the naked, the homeless, and the faceless. Their experience of deprivation, brokenness and pain would be his.
Jesus’ memory comes to us in multiple ways through his life story retold in the Gospels, through people journeying with him across space and time, through their shared experiences, also through artistic expressions of Jesus’ life and deeds. Jesus’ own way of communicating through stories and parables appealed deeply to the people of his time. And this is what the dolls narrating the story of Jesus tend to do.
Jesus, the Marginalized
Personages; Iconic and Colorful Representations
The dolls narrating Jesus’ story are ‘Personages’. They are symbolic expressions carrying stories and dreams addressing the secret space at the center of our being. Their charming appeal causes us to rise up to the intuitive wisdom of our own precious and true self.
They are ‘Iconic Dolls’. I use the term ‘iconic’ in its rich ancient meaning, designating sacred representations and spaces. The rainbow colors of Jesus’ dress have their own precious language and expression. They open new horizons for his message to touch and penetrate us, to remind and challenge us.
The dense and light blue shades of his dress speak of the Divine truth and the heavenly sky. The deep and ivory green colors represent the graceful creation and its rich growing vegetative life. In the brilliant orange shades I see God’s wisdom as the sunlight of the world. White, the color of newness, speaks of Jesus’ glory. The dark purple dress represents the Divine love. The grey ash color reminds us of the darkening of the light, of smoke, craters and polluted air. The parched dry soil is expressed in a light fawn colored dress.
Jesus’ often deep red colored dress resonates strongly with his struggle to bring to birth a ‘New Creation’ and is aflame with his healing and compassionate heart. Red, the color of vibrant life stands for his blood, shed for the life of the world.
People Narrate their Stories of Encounter with Jesus
“The story of Jesus comes alive through the telling of people’s encounter with Jesus in the story of their lives.”
I created fifty-four Gospel scenes in the medium of dolls. These inspire some sensitive people to narrate and to interpret with creative imagination their stories and people’s stories, experiences, dreams and hopes. I trust these stories will carry the message and “make real our dreams that the violence against life, the violence of all wars and all violence will become one day, unthinkable.”
Hopefully these stories coming alive in this illustrated Iconic Dolls Book will become powerful agents of transformation because they are stories of ones faith encounter with Jesus in the journey of life.
May they sustain our hope that “Another world is possible.”
Much in my heart remains unsaid for I myself haven’t told the deepest of my secrets. The stories of my dolls are the stories of my encounter with the Divine in the journey of my life.
My dream is that the Iconic Dolls narrating the story of Jesus in
invite people who view them and ponder over them, to interpret their own life story. Our shared dream is that “the retelling of the story of Jesus through the stories of people brings about a disclosure of the Truth, the Beauty and the Challenge that God is, and therefore a revelation of the truth about ourselves.” India
May we then sing to the Divine a new song offering to each other a richer and fuller humanity.