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?
Mestrich’s use of abstraction in The Black Doll Series is both deconstructive and generative, dismantling the stereotypes on display in each doll, and enabling her to harness complete control of an image’s transfiguration through sharp lines and angles and a tight composition. (Read more about The Black Doll Series here.) The geometric components that make up the central arrangement in Sweet Indian Doll III are not unlike kaleidoscope fragments—we are looking through a lens of Mestrich’s own making, a narrative she commands. Abstract though it may be, Sweet Indian Doll III is a representation of Blackness brought to life by a Black woman, methodically and decisively decolonized. In this there’s a commentary on the fictionality of the original. Though the abstracted form is nearly as far from figurative realism as one could get, it’s more authentically human than the stereotyped product pic from which Mestrich ministered its metamorphosis ... Read more on the blog!
+ Limited-edition, exclusive to 20x200
+ Museum quality: archival inks, 100% cotton rag paper unless noted
+ Signed + numbered certificate of authenticity included
+ Directly supports the artist
+ 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