This spring Tel Aviv had their annual art fair: Fresh Paint with a main pavilion and satellite galleries all over the city. My exhibit “We’re All in the Same Boat” was exhibited at Kuchinate, African Women’s Refugee Collective, curated by Tamar Lamdan and Carmite Shine of Two Curators.
Kuchinate was founded by Dr. Diddy Mymin Kahn and Sister Aziza Kidane to provide a community of support, employment and guidance for these women. Kuchinate makes beautiful woven, handmade baskets to sell and they are adding more handmade items to their collection. http://www.kuchinate.com
My life-sized boat and ten life-sized dolls greatly impacted the viewers; the scale of the piece helped the audience relate to the refugees and their situation. I also believe that we’re not used to seeing “dolls” sad or suffering or life-sized rather small, delicate and beautiful; large dolls were also a shocking sight which helped convey the plight of refugees. The 2.5 meter long row boat was made from cardboard, wood and duct tape, the refugee dolls were needle felted from wool; the project took 2.5 months to create. The refugees were depicted from many different countries and different periods in time. Many viewers shared their own stories of displacement and hardship, making us realize that all of us are at risk for one reason or another.
The only doll in the boat that I didn’t leave for the audience to decide for themselves the ethnicity or situation of the refugee doll was the young Polish refugee girl. The only real interaction and deep understanding of a personal situation with a refugee I’ve ever had is my mother-in-law, Sida Beck Levitas. Sida was a hidden child during WWII, because of her big blue eyes and very blond hair she passed as a Christian during the Holocaust. Most of the stories we know about her from this time period are from her brother, Arther Beck who was also a hidden child. Sida doesn’t like to talk about this time in her life because it gives her nightmares for weeks. We’ve seen how the refugee situation she endured affected the rest of her life and I’m sure all refugees suffer similar long lasting effects. Sida is 92 and lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The life-sized dolls were needle felted over a wire and wood armature, the larger dolls used a wooden-easel method to help them sit sturdily. The sculptures have glass doll eyes and polymer-clay teeth.
I wanted to represent various situations in the boat, depression, seriousness, fear and even hope. One of the big questions I had was what do the children do during these long, dangerous journeys, do they run about, peer over the sides of the boat or play with other children? I was told by one of the African refugees that the smugglers would yell at anyone talking or making noise. Everyone including the children would be hit with a stick to keep them in line.
I know that many of the refugees around the world are religious, so I made the praying boy at the front of the boat as a sign of hope.
These dolls are needle felted from wool; they are 3-D political illustrations.
I feel that the words of Elie Wiesel can best explain my thoughts on speaking out on the immigration problems that the world (not only the United States) has today:
“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
I ask myself a lot of questions that I think have a lot to do with people who view immigrants as law breakers, criminals and rapists:
Solutions: Since the world is dealing with immigration more and more because of political unrest, war and a changing climate, why don’t we set up more think-tanks to deal with immigration issues? Young people are often very insightful and have recently brought new energy and ideas to today’s problems; let’s introduce these issues to students and let them try to solve the issue. Maybe we should start taxing religious institutions and use that money to help immigrants AND others. Perhaps we should teach people the art of debate so we can better discuss these issues in a more productive way. I’m sure we should have better leaders, people with compassion who want to help people and solve problems humanely.
I do a lot of different commission work in needle felting, it’s usually a doll or a mask or a beloved pet. I’ve made puppets for educational aides in the past but recently I was asked to do a bust of a multi-ethnic young girl; the customer wanted the doll’s mouth to be able to open and close and her tongue to be movable. The customer is a speech therapist who thinks that demonstrating how to move and place your tongue will help her young patients to better follow her instructions. I tried to stay away from the ventriloquist-look as much as possible because I think ventriloquist dolls are scary looking. The very unique thing about this therapy doll is that you can place the tongue in different areas in the mouth to show children more easily how to make specific sounds:)
From the commentary I’ve received concerning this bust, the speech therapist is onto something!
Bęc Smith I’m a speech pathologist and think this is so cool!