Hello dolly - Jerusalem's Art & Dolls Expo kicks off

If you think dolls are just things little children – generally girls – play with, you may be persuaded to review that after visiting the Art & Dolls Expo Jerusalem, which opened at Sergei’s Courtyard

A CREATION by Naomi Ocean. (photo credit: Courtesy)
A CREATION by Naomi Ocean.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you think dolls are just things little children – generally girls – play with, you may be persuaded to review that particular mind-set after visiting the Art & Dolls Expo Jerusalem, which opened at Sergei’s Courtyard yesterday. The show is set for an eleven day berth in the picturesque locale and incorporates a broad sweep of takes on the titular toy.
There are ornate figures and some that tend towards the more playful side, and there are some fine looking works that are clearly the result of plenty of fine tuning and attention to detail. Naomi Ocean’s creations certainly answer to the latter description. Ocean is in the lineup for the country’s inaugural event in that particular field which is taking place under the aegis of internationally renowned Russian puppet artist Svetlana Pchelnikova, president of the International Association of Dolls Artists and one of the most influential players in the global arena.
The full layout of over 130 works made by leading doll-crafters from here and around the world, takes in “beauty” dolls, alongside “classic” dolls and others of a more street level contemporary nature, including some that convey some sort of philosophical or even political subtext. And for those who have a soft spot for the more cuddly variety of domestic playthings, the exhibition also features a special section devoted to that beloved of doll-like objects, the teddy bear.
Ocean’s exhibits are very much products of the here and now, as she seeks to portray ideas and sentiments that are pertinent to the world we all share.
“For the moment, everything I do is all female dolls based on 21st century characters,” she explains, adding that she invests a fair amount of elbow grease in her art. “I’m planning on doing male characters and children, but it’s a very long process to make them, so that may take a little while.”
While appreciating the inherent aesthetics of the field, Ocean says she prefers to feed off more down to earth energies. “If you look at the doll world at the moment, a lot of them are very beautiful. They are very serene, they are very doll-like, or comical, or with comic-like faces.” Ocean takes a very different approach. “I wanted to have realistic features with a lot of emotional expression.” In so doing, she touches on what she considers a general malaise. “I feel that in our society, we don’t like people expressing their emotions so much.”
CONSIDERING WHERE Ocean has been living since making aliyah from Russia 21 years ago, that comes as something of a surprise. People here, on the whole, don’t keep too much back in that regard. “There are all these tranquilizers and people say you can’t show this or that – although Israel is an exception,” she notes with a chuckle. “You’re driving in your car and there’s a lot of expression out there,” she laughs. “But, if you’re not an Israeli, you are educated in a certain way. God forbid you should cry in the street. It’s no-no, take your Valium – or something like that – to keep your feelings under control.”
Ocean aims to address that restraint by letting it all hang out in the figures she crafts. “I try to emphasize that a bit. My last series [of dolls] was all about emotion, and I have dolls that are screaming, in pain. They have closed eyes. They can feel scared or lost.”
Basically, Ocean wants to shake us up a bit through her art, and leave some mark on us. “I want to give people something to think about it. They may look at one of my dolls and they think: oh, that’s what dolls are! I like it when people get a little nervous around my work. It makes them think. I really like that.”
Ocean brings an impressive academic backdrop to her professional endeavor.
“I studied at university in Russia about 20 years ago,” she notes. She benefited from a multistratified and broad educational introduction to her chosen trade. “I studied fine arts,” she continues. “My specialty was painting and printmaking, with some fusion of illustration. It is a Russian art school, which is fairly versatile. You study classical drawing and painting. We also had to study abstract art, plus sculpture. It was a very interesting and very wonderful five years,” she laughs.
Over the years, Ocean’s approach to her work, and the technical aspects she embraces, have evolved.
“I became intrigued by this ball-jointed doll technique. It means the dolls have joints – elbows, knees and so on – like humans. They move. They shift their position. Not on their own,” she adds with a laugh. “That means have extremely realistic sculpting of body parts – hands, eyes, faces, everything.”
Ocean has been perfecting the technique for over six years and applies it to her work on all kinds of characters, including figures that appear to come from some kind of mythological domain. That, she says, offers generous room for maneuver, on both a physical and conceptual level.
“My latest series had a theme of birds,” she says. “They were not necessarily fairylike but there was the idea of freedom, that birds have, and how we relate to them – you know, you let birds fly, they have wings and all that.”
There was a deeper layer to the line in question. “The dolls I made related to the sacrifices you sometimes have to make to be able to be free,” Ocean explains. “It can be painful, or you search for freedom to escape from pain. I wanted to talk about life, metaphorically, when you don’t have your wings.”
A WORK BY Oksana Mortubo. (Credit: Courtesy)A WORK BY Oksana Mortubo. (Credit: Courtesy)
EDNA DALI’S contributions to the exhibition also have an ornithological component, although the message she is looking to convey through her work has deeper implications too.
“I began combining bird figures with heads for an exhibition last year in Kfar Saba, called Relationships,” she explains. “I addressed the theme of the relationship between human beings and nature. I asked myself who controls whom – does nature control us – with earthquakes and storms and all the various phenomena – or does mankind overcome nature by flying into outer space and all that.”
Dali tries to put across that dichotomy in the dolls she creates, in no uncertain terms. “You have a combination of a bird sitting on a head, and sinking its claws in the human flesh.” That sounds pretty horrific, but the aesthetic bottom line is alluring nonetheless. “The theme of the Relationships exhibition was, in fact, disruption,” Dali expounds. “Is nature in charge or, are all the natural phenomena we are seeing now – higher temperatures and all that – the result of humankind interfering with nature.”
Dali discovered her artistic penchant during a stint in the United Kingdom, while her husband was on shlichut there, and developed her craft when the couple spent four years in the United States in the early ‘08s. “I began working in art when I was in England, but I encountered the world of dolls in the states, in Boston,” she notes. “I began to work in sculpting and figurative art there. I also exhibited in New York several times.”
The former, she says, informs the latter discipline. “I started out with sculpting, and later got into dolls. Today, I engage more in figurative art and the sculpting side.” Dali points out that the exhibition at Sergei’s Courtyard is not just about dolls. “It is called the Arts & Dolls Expo. I am more on the side of the art today.”
Dali freely admits to harboring an ulterior motive. “There is a definite ecological message in my work too. I want people to come away from my exhibitions with food for thought.” Politics also comes into Dali’s output. “I have a work, which I didn’t send into the exhibition, which talks about how the politicians – the relationship between [Ayelet] Shaked and [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and all that – about politicians ‘screwing’ each other. All that is in my work too.”
Her web site indeed displays the humorous – largely of the darker variety – side of her artistic bent. There is a series based on a character called Eddy, whose many poses include one with a trumpet protruding from his rear end. That was prompted by Dali’s disgust at our politicians’ shenanigans.
“In the last elections, all the politicians wanted to be leaders,” she says. “They said they could lead the world. That annoyed me. The trumpet was my way of expressing my frustration with them.”
Dali is keen to point out that her oeuvre also takes in less strident portrayals. “Overall you could say my characters are sweet,” she states. “But I am at an age when I do whatever I want to. I don’t hold back with my art.” Just the way it should be.
For more information about the exhibition: ba-li.co.il.