Preta Wolzak's Valley of Dolls

'The little girl cuddles her doll and dresses her up as she dreams of being cuddled and dressed up herself; inversely, she thinks of herself as a marvellous doll'.

Simone de Beauvoir

Preta Wolzak loves dresssing up, that much is true. But as a little girl, she was far from the girl De Beauvoir describes. She might have dreamt of being cuddled, but only while she pulled the legs and arms from the dolls' bodies, or while she dipped them headfirst in tins of paint. Now, that's what she considered marvellous.

Preta Wolzak. Skua. Photography 2016. Edition of 30.

The dolls Wolzak has been creating in her adult life -since 2014 to be precise- are hand-painted, but nothing like those ghastly Reborn babies. Using epoxy as a starting point - and adding various magnificent materials, from pearls to pure gold, Wolzak works on a powerful body of work, an investigation into the exaggerated, almost fetishistic girliness championed by vintage dolls. Her series, "I Hate Dolls" explores what these seemingly paradoxical features of femininity and childishness, which she found to be present in 1970s dolls -pouted lips, baby face, empty stare, and even curvy breasts- say about attitudes to raising girls and the ensuing female identity.

Preta Wolzak. Iniko. Original Sculpture. 2016. Sold. 

Psychologists emphasise the importance for children to see positive depictions of their own image. The black activist Marcus Garvey, who later inspired people like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, was fully aware of the importance for children to have an image of self that is accurate, when he backed his African pride and self-empowerment movement with factory produced black-skinned dolls with African features as early as the 1920s.

Since 1959, white children have Barbie, but which child looks like Barbie? As Wolzak finds Barbieland to be an horrific place, she always keeps well away from these dolls, and also from Tammys and Sindys – Britain’s more “wholesome” answers to Barbie. Also the more recent and totally overpriced, wide-eyed Blythe dolls, which are a big hit in Japan, send shivers down her spine.

Blythe Dolls.

Wolzak knows like no other how to turn a mass produced vintage doll into unique pieces of art. If you want some insight into Wolzak's drive and precision that goes into creating every single doll she makes, she will tell you a little story of Sassenach and Brathair:

'Sassenach and Brathair are two brothers made of the best stuff.

Both arrived at my studio as blonde girls from the North. Born into the upper class and doing well at hockey; always the best in their classes at school. They wanted to ride horses, and preferably have horses of their own. They had these healthy red blushes on their cheeks. You'll probably know that stiff upper lip expression on their faces. But that has vanished, that spoilt expression is no longer there…noooo, I took care of that.

Both turned out to be outsiders, they do not conform to their peer group anymore.

They wanted to figure out who they are and what they stand for. It is not about the group process anymore, they are now beautiful independently thinking souls. Brathair always wanted to be a gorgeous boy from Tierra del Fuego, a small country next to Argentina where they paint their bodies with white stripes, this was a tradition in the 1920s to entertain and give people a good, happy feeling.

L-R: Martin Gusinde. Photo Documentation of the Selk'nam Hain Ceremony. 1923.   Preta Wolzak. Brathair. Original Sculpture. 2016. Available.

Sassenach and Brathair both know what it is like not to live in the larger community; all with the same thoughts and ideas of what is good or bad. Just be an individual, even if it hurts sometimes. These brothers know you can be stronger.'

I want Sassenach and Brathair for President.

Hedy van Erp, with thanks to Preta Wolzak



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