By: Curious Theatre Company On: June 15, 2018 In: Uncategorized Comments: 0

The Dolls – Installation


What a strange task it was, to create an installation to present these tactile, meticulously made objects to audiences who have just experienced Underground Railroad Game. URG is a visceral, energetic show that really, really works over its material. In the immediate moments after the show, what else can be said to an audience about race, gender, enslavement, education, sex, intimacy, power, and agency? If the audience can not touch the dolls, what can be gained by shuffling by these little black objects in a theater lobby?


The goal of the installation is to create a pre- and post-show experience for audiences viewing Underground Railroad Game that encourages contemplation of the show’s themes through the slave doll, its central image and prop. The installation features eight vintage and antique dolls on loan from Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation (Chicago). Their original collector is Edward Williams, an African-American collector of thousands of items of black memorabilia or “negrobilia” (after Theaster Gates). This selection from Ed’s collection includes four cloth black/white flip dolls, a sock doll, a plastic and cloth doll, a soft body doll, and a wooden figurine. I have developed a deep admiration for these uncanny little things. They are personal and personable objects with mysterious histories that I can only guess at by squinting at a price tag or recognizing a fabric print. I do not know enough about them, but I have named them: Punch, Red, Sissy, Lily, Knickers, Baby (Beloved), Mr. Nuthead, and Big Doll.


Maybe the opportunity to share the dolls’ stillness is enough. Looking in a gallery, as opposed to looking in a theater, allows the mind to wander and the gaze be pulled to details that emerge. The volume of the call to see, to witness, these objects and their histories constantly adjusts to what the viewer knows about the histories we humans share with these dolls. When the individual viewer looks, I want them to see the dolls, and then witness themselves seeing. As the viewer returns a doll’s gaze and scans its features, I want them to see something precious and grotesque. I want the dolls to be bodies, people. I want them to be ghosts, the kind that sit on top of bookshelves in bedrooms, in closet corners, dusty boxes, swarmed auction houses and estate sales, and gnat-filled display cases in forgotten museum collections. Ghosts that stretch out their arms and stitched hands from their perches to hug us, prod our faces, and shape our mouths into questions about the society that fostered their existence. What does it mean to be a human and object? To be sold, bought, and owned? Collectible, designed, and stitched? Consumable and disposable?


About the Artists


Petra Floyd is a first­-generation Liberian-­American multidisciplinary artist from Philadelphia. She uses drawing, sculpture, writing, printmaking, and performance to meditate on Blackness in the United States and other sites of the African diaspora, focusing on reinvention through inherited and appropriated material culture and performance.


Rachel “RC” Connor lives in Philadelphia and wears many hats. With collaborators, she produces creative work that is aural, visual, sculptural. She has recently been involved in organizing around racial justice and affordable housing in Philadelphia and is interested in building capacious community where both justice and creativity can thrive.