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Doll making cultures

Project collaborators: Rei Saionji, Sumida Ward Tourism Association

Project dates: 2019 to present

This project investigates the artistic practice of dollmakers in Japan and Australia. It explores the transcultural flows between Japan and Europe and the flux of initiatives to support traditional arts and cultural heritage. The project explores both porcelain and bisque fashion dolls (sometimes known as ‘French dolls’) as well as traditional Japanese dollmaking.

Since the 1600s, doll making has been part of girls culture in Japan. The traditions of Hina and Ichimatsu Doll-making have long lineages that span across generations. Megan and Rei work with these masters to understand their practice and the challenges the industries face in preserving cultural heritage. Traditional Japanese dolls have also been exported globally as Oriental artefacts, tools of diplomacy and signifiers of Japanese artistic prowess. It has the potential to both promote an appreciation of tradition, but also cause harm, particularly in the ways in which Orientalism has framed Japanese girls and women as ‘little dolls’. This project interrogates the politics of this cultural exchange, and how it could be reformulated to incorporate the experiences of Japanese communities overseas.

Since the 1900s, artists in Japan have also experimented with the art of porcelain fashion doll making, drawing from the practice of bisque dollmaking in France and Germany. This has produced a rich and unique culture that transforms the dolls form. Megan and Rei together are working with the contemporary art doll scene to better understand this phenomena, including art dolls and hobby dolls.

In Australia, there has been a renaissance in traditional porcelain fashion doll making since the 1970s, with artists meticulously re-creating and collecting antique dolls. This project also explores how this community can work with and support doll masters in Japan in continuing their practice.

Central to this project is making as a form of embodied knowledge. Megan is studying doll making, and together with Rei, in collaboration Sumida Tourism Ward, is hosting hands-on workshops that connect participants with doll masters in Japan.

English 日本語