No 2 (90) 2012
April - June

A Silent Cry of Dolls

Contemporary culture offers kids a number of toys referring to violence. This phenomenon has been deconstructed by the so called toy art; one of the trends in art, described by Ernst van Alphen as employing toys to address rather adults than children.1

Marta Smolińska

Post-doctoral degree holder, Prof. at the University of Arts in Poznań, Art Theory and Philosophy Faculty.

Marta Smolińska

ONE CAN LOOK AT THE PHOTOGRAPHS by Małgorzata Markiewicz from the angle of this general interpretation framework. She has illustrated various types of dolls present in the today market. When one considers these works in the context of toy art, immediately a certainParadox is revealed; namely, the dolls depicted by the artist have been originally meant for little girls, not adults. By assumption, they are an element of carefree childhood, or a tool to educate a child through play, and prepare her for her future role of a mother. The dolls presented on the photographs by Markiewicz - instead of meeting an expected stereotype of a toy - look terrifying and instantly bring associations with violence. As she proves, to grasp an aspect of violence - written into the toys produced in the contemporary culture - it is enough to have a closer look at the "innocent" dolls; what is surprising, these are dolls, not guns nor plastic tanks, nor bloody computer games where killing is an expected achievement.

Markiewicz has a specially keen eye for the dolls whose oppressive situation is more striking than this of other dolls offered in the market. She takes their photographs against a neutral black background, serving as a mysterious darkness or an abyss out of which the characters of her photos emerge, or alternately, are claimed by it. Individual frames offer dolls in packaging that was originally meant to protect them during transportation, being simultaneously a kind of display "framework" encouraging a potential shopper. Their ultimate aim is to enchant a child to convince her parents to buy. The boxes - instead of protecting dolls - give an impression that plastic figures had been imprisoned and put on display.

Their situation is like a silent cry, a call for help, specially when a doll's head has been put in a plastic bag lacking air with a string tied around her neck, or when all of her body has been tied up with a kind of net that limits any potential movement. In another piece, figures of several dolls - attractive and slim like models illustrating the popular culture ideal of feminine beauty - dressed only in their underwear, are tied up together by an elastic band. There are digits and letters "burnt" into their backs with the information on production series. These immediately bring associations with man being treated like an object in concentration camps and reducing him to a tattooed number. Remaining dolls have been imprisoned in boxes, as in transparent jails, exposing their cheap dresses, doomed to the verdict of a customer, who might either buy them, or reject. This situation strongly resembles Amsterdam Red Light District, or similar spots elsewhere in the world; where women - as though they were dolls - are being put on display to show their, frequently exotic, beauty to satisfy the buyer.

Some of the dolls photographed by Markiewicz look fixedly at the audience. Even though their plastic eyes are dead, they automatically make one disturbed and terrified. Motionless, frequently in weird poses, submissive, caught in transparent traps; they are "a symbol" of modern slavery, an approach to a woman as an object, human trafficking, violence. The paradox is that they have not been intentionally created by the artist to "tell" her story; they are specific objets trouvés, spotted by Markiewicz and "framed" out of ordinary reality which is also the reality of little girls looking for their beloved dolls.

1 - Ernst van Alphen, Playing with Holocaust, translated by K. Bojarska, "Literatura na Świecie" 1-2, 2004, p. 217-243.

Małgorzata Markiewicz, "Vanishing Points", the Piekary Gallery, Poznań, March - April 2012.