American female slaves were the earliest makers of black dolls for their own children. The mass production of black dolls (for more seemingly sinister purposes) dates back to late 19th century toy production in Germany and France. By appropriating the listing photos of black vintage dolls for sale on e-commerce sites like Etsy and eBay, I have created a collection of new non-gestural, digital images rooted in the aesthetic tradition of geometric abstraction.
One common use for dolls across cultures has been to represent the human figure and instill a sense of care and maternity. Although for many children of color, the dolls chosen for us are also our first introduction to the divisive concept of “race”, specifically if the doll’s color does not match our own.
As a child, the darkest doll I had was a Hawaiian Barbie that I coveted for her caramel skin, brown eyes and silky, jet-black hair that flowed past her waist. As a mother, I question the roles dolls play in establishing conventional expressions of gender and racial identity. I am further interested in how the mass production of these dolls have perpetuated or upheld stereotypical opinions about femininity, motherhood and blackness.
The Black Doll series (2017) pairs each new abstracted image with the seller’s original item description, creating an interplay between social representation and personal memory. What happens when these doll images are (digitally) broken down into basic, formal elements of shape and color? What meaning, if any, can we derive from their descriptions/captions? Can abstraction be used to deconstruct racial and gender stereotypes?
In The Black Doll Series, Mestrich redefines vintage Black dolls through her own visual translation, using the power of abstraction and the syntax of shape, form and color to rewrite the sentence. She takes strange, stereotyped, or whitewashed portrayals and drastically alters them, owns them, makes them new. Which is not to say she removes them from reality altogether. Her color choices suggest skin tones, and her shapes hint at human form. Note how the composition of OOAK Vintage Black Francie Doll 2 is centered and lit like a classical portrait. A rich russet brown dominates the background. Layered, luminous fragments at center bring to mind the effect of light falling on the planes of a face — but instead of centering a recognizable subject with a face, her focal point is non-figurative ... Read more on the blog!
+ Pixelation in the prints is intentional—the artist created a specific look for each size of this edition.
+ Museum quality: archival inks, 100% cotton rag paper unless noted
+ Signed + numbered certificate of authenticity included
+ Handcrafted custom-framing is available
Our quoted dimensions are for the size of paper containing the images, not the printed image itself. We do not alter the aspect ratio, nor do we crop or resize the artists’ originals. All of our prints have a minimum border of .5 inches to allow for framing.
Museo Portfolio Rag
10"x8" | edition of 20
14"x11" | edition of 200
20"x16" | edition of 50
30"x24" | edition of 5