Art in Tel Aviv

A land and its dolls 11/5-30/9 Eretz Israel Museum. Curator: Dr. Shelly Shenhav-Keller

The appearance of national costume dolls as a socio-cultural phenomenon is part of popular culture that began before the establishment of the State of Israel, and ended in the late 1980s, and reached its peak in the 1950s to 1970s. These dolls were made by artists, artisans and craftspeople that used a variety of techniques and styles, typically employing straightforward methods. Most doll-makers and designers were not born in Israel - some of them had artistic education while others had hardly any connection with this art form.

Dolls were displayed and sold privately in souvenir shops or in shops owned by institutional organizations such as WIZO, Maskit and HaMeshakem.
The dolls are souvenirs with biographies, with memories of a place and experience. They were bought by Israelis, and particularly Jewish tourists who took them home with them after they left the country, a scrap of their national homeland in the shape of ornamental dolls that depicted local types, later to be put on display in their faraway homes.

Looking back in retrospect, the repertoire of these national costume dolls evokes memories and perhaps even yearning. Yet the exhibition seeks to expand the scope beyond the nostalgic, and regard these dolls as a symbolic unit that conveys messages and meaning about the period, and the changes that took place over the course of seven decades. The dolls in the exhibition express symbols, values and myths related to the creation of Israeli identity: nationality, ethnicity, the melting pot, pluralism and multiculturalism.

Presenting and interpreting the doll collection will draw the boundaries of representation, and reveal the figures that are included, as well as those that are not. The exhibition attests to the tension embodied in the dolls, while attempting to answer the question: did these dolls - created over many years -reflect, represent, shape or invent the sought-after imagined and hegemonic Israeli-ness?

The dolls in the exhibition bear witness to the narrative that we as a society wished to show and to tell ourselves and others, yet they are also a wink at the essence of the story.