Roundabout | Dolls beyond the Barbie world - Hindustan Times

Roundabout | Dolls beyond the Barbie world

ByNirupama Dutt
Oct 09, 2022 01:25 AM IST

For a designer, a doll is a mannequin, for an artist looking back at his childhood, it’s his mother’s face and for a gutsy woman artist, she is a colossal creature bathing in the sun

Well, it may be too late in the day to play with dolls but certainly not too late to write about them. Now, that one has started off on the task, I wonder why I never wrote about dolls in over 50 years of pen pushing, pounding away on ramshackle typewriters and later going tik-tok on keyboards? Oh yes! I do recall once going hammer and tongs against the toxic plastic Barbie, born way back in vintage 1958, but becoming the mascot of free economy and more.

Tanya Passan’s dolls are her mannequins. (HT File)
Tanya Passan’s dolls are her mannequins. (HT File)

In 1997, she had a song dedicated to her, which was being sung shamelessly: “I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world/ Life in plastic, It’s fantastic/ You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere...” Well, this size-zero bony creature seemed to have erased memories of all dolls, starting from the early civilisations, and that was tough to take. But, once the market makes up its mind, there is little chance of stepping back. For a while feminists protested, saying seamstresses in Thailand were hurting their fingers stitching tiny Barbie garments, but their voices were lost in the fervour of glamour-struck kids and parents. The counterargument was that girls were getting employment in the plastic world. A memory from the changing world of the 90s, which is still alive in the mind of well-known Delhi-based painter Gogi Saroj Paul leaving her painting brush for a while and started making huge and healthy canvas-stuffed dolls or rather sculptures in reaction to the emaciated girl who had become such a craze.

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The craze continued, but soon one stopped bothering, and in vengeance started giving Russian Nesting Dolls as gifts to little girls, accompanied by a recitation of a more appealing poem of their tribe: “ All you see is outside me: my painted smile, the rosy-posy shell, the fluttery eyes/ A butter-won’t-melt-in-my-mouth-type me/ But inside there’s another me...”

It was this “another me” within this doll named Matryoshka, which encased several smaller dolls in her plump frame, that said it all.

Her chosen mannequins

However, over the past week, I found myself engaging with a doll one had dismissed long ago for being too bony and sans “another me” inside her. This had me a little worried about turning somewhat senile. Well, it’s part of the game. It happens to many, so why not me? So, putting aside the inside-outside dilemma, I decided to confront this senility by going into the heart of the matter. Well, it all started with a young and enthusiastic student of a fashion and design technology institute reading out an essay on her vocational choice titled: “Why I am here?”

Young Tanya Passan, well that’s her name, held forth in all sincerity: “Ever since I was a child, I had a liking for dolls, but their dresses were so lacking in finesse that I took it as an opportunity to create my own designs!”

So, this young woman started making sketches and colouring them. The next step was to turn these designs into tangible dresses, going slowly first on a manual sewing machine and later taking pains to learn to operate an electronic one. Thus, she had taken up the task of giving an inside-outside turnaround to the Barbie mode creations into mannequins of sorts dressed with a touch of elegance.

“That’s not all, I would replace their hair or dye them to compliment their attire! I used plastic glue to fabricate their shoes and handbags, and felt I had found my vocation”. Seeing her art, her father too gave in to her wish to study fashion communication.

As opposed to the Barbie song of yore, she believes in dressing rather than undressing her dolls. “Well, so far I have dressed some two dozen dolls with accessories and all. Their number seems to be growing”.

Hey Matryoshka, one can see you grinning from ear to ear.

Sunbaking at the Kunzum Pass

Believe it or not, dolls seem to have some telepathic power too. Hooked this weekend to doll stories, I started exploring pictures of the soft sculptures by a Chandigarh-based artist Gurjeet Singh, who has a way of turning memories of people and places into cloth sculptures, and has endeared art lovers by this gift, winning many laurels in the process. I found many of my favourites among them. There is a delightful one of a Punjabi couple well past their prime sitting playfully on the branch of a tree, perhaps modelled after the image of his parents. Yet, another more stylised one of a ‘Punjaban Bebe’ knitting a sweater with her ball of wool, which Gurjeet has created with such charm.

And lo midst all those pictures returns one of Gogi’s well-stuffed 1998 soft sculpture. The huge smiling woman defies all fashionable proportions to bask in the sun and gain some Vitamin D for her colossal body. “Created as these sculptures were to oppose body shaming, I made it a point to make the message more clear by taking her for a holiday in the Himalayas. There she sat in all her glory at the Kumzum Pass and I clicked her picture,” says the bindas artist known for imaging women with a difference.

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