Annual Black Doll Exhibition

Category: Art
Published on Sunday, 14 March 2010 13:09
Written by Renee Montgomery

In a town with few long-term traditions, here was one of the most quaint and provocative, the Annual Black Doll Exhibition celebrating its 29th anniversary at the William Grant Still Arts Center (show closed February 27th). As the title “I’ve Got a Story to Tell” implies, this show of over 800 dolls traces the complex history of African-Americans and is not simply for girls or women. It reads more like a sociological study than a toy display.  For instance, the 150-year old patchwork doll pieced from scraps with a featureless face is a grim reminder of anonymous slaves.  So too is the tradition of two-sided topsy-turvy dolls where the black doll (illegal for slaves to own) was hid under the skirt of the white doll.  Displayed also are several pickaninny and Aunt Jemima dolls. Contributing for years to racist stereotypes, these toys were finally replaced in the 1960s by such dolls as the Shindana brand -- manufactured in South Central L.A. after the Watts Riot and featuring Afro physical traits.  And then there’s Urkle.
My favorite dolls in the exhibition are Diana Ross as Billie Holiday handcuffed to Billy Dee Williams, released in connection with the film “Lady Sings the Blues.”   Curator Amy Motevalli, Director of Education,  explains that Marla Gibbs occasionally visits ‘her’ doll created in the likeness of housekeeper Florence from “The Jeffersons.”  A larger presentation than other doll museums offer, this spectacular exhibition includes different loans every year.  The Center is located at 2560 S. Westview, off Adams between La Brea and Crenshaw.  Galleries are open Tues-Sat 12-5 pm. Phone (323) 734-1165 for information about other shows.