Experiment | Expressive Dolls Making — another form of Self-Portrait

Growing up with dolls and toys,  my childhood memories were about changing dresses for Barbies with my cousins,  or making toys and dolls with my father, or waiting for my Mom bringing me new dolls from her trips, and most of the gifts I received from family and friends were dolls and fluffy toys. Which made me have a special feeling towards dolls — they are your siblings and your best friends.

As I grow up and travel to different countries, no matter where I lived, I need to find a doll to accompany me.

Working on the project, I went to the exhibition of Francis Upritchard at Barbican Center. ” Playing with scale, color and texture, the installation takes visitors through the artist’s works in a variety of materials, including her distinctive figurative sculptures in polymer plastic, mythological rubber forms, a collection of bronze hands and feet, etc. Her works are characterized by a sense of curiosity and exploration of the human form. Figures are sculpted from balata a wile rubber harvested in Brazil. Based on centaurs inspired by the Parthenon reliefs, creatures from science fiction novels and Japanese folklore characters of Ashinaga-Tenaga who extol the virtues of a symbiotic working relationship, these sculptural forms, and surrounding objects coalesce into a melting pot of traditions where no dominant culture persist. ”

I was totally attracted by these distinctive human forms and colors. That night ar a party at my friends home, I used the wasted papers, mask tape, and cloth to make a Dobby quickly.

Then I thought, why not making some dolls with different materials for this project?

First, I used my previous drawings to make paper dolls. When I looked at these paper dolls in different shapes, colors, and patterns, these are like the costume design, I could imagine myself designing big size garment based on these dolls. It’s a nice way for me to design costume models.

Second, I used some color tapes. newspaper and wire to make a doll, by looking at the figure painting from John Miro. In his painting, the head is a red circle, the body is combined with colorful rectangles, while the legs are just two thin lines. It’s very childlike and abstract, changed my mind of making toys with two eyes and 1 mouth.

Third, one day I got very angry and upset at school, I felt I was bound by something, I can’t breathe, I can’t be free. Coming back home, I made 2 toys with while cloth and several rubber bands, one doll was hanged with hands being bound, while another toy curling on the ground.

Looking at these two dolls, the first time I felt that dolls made me were actually reflecting my emotions, they were portraits of me. Maybe I could study human emotion and develop some expressive dolls.  

Fourth, I used rubber gloves that I wore when I did paintings, there were full of colors, which were artworks too. I filled each of them with cotton, then drew eyes and mouth on these each side. These sad or creepy faces were also my self-portraits at that moment.

Fifth, I bought fragile tape and fell in love with it! So I made a heart with white papers then used the fragile tape to wrap it — this is a fragile heart, please be careful.

Sixth, I made more dolls or hearts with warning tape, masking tape, wool yarns, wood, paper, cloth, ribbon gauzes. 

Seventh, I weaved a bag with hemp ropes, I was thinking to put a doll inside then hang it on the ceiling, like a person in the cage, but becasue my doll were too small, so I filled the bag with cotton — I also put different colors on the cotton– It looked weird, reminded me of the human brain or livers, but I really like it ! 

Last but not least, I found the doll I made from the previous project, instead of letting her flying with wings, this time I used warning tapes to tie up her on a chair. She is forced and controlled by someone or something.


Then I read some books about dolls at RCA Library.

I was impressed by the Black Dolls the most, made by different materials from daily life, wood, animal fur scrap, metal leftover, fabric, and other domestic objects. These black doll are very expressive, primitive and elemental, approaching the talismanic in their stylized, minimal forms and materials. They are showing the expressive of truly human characteristics, which awoke my emotional attention.

Just like what Margo Jefferson wrote in the book, ” Dolls are the only toys made in our image, the only human-like creatures children are given dominion over. You, the child, are the creator of an ordered existence: A miniature kingdom that can imitate or disrupt the logic of your everyday life, the life conceived of and run by adults. They do what they want with you. You do what you want with the doll. You are loving, you are fickle, you are imperious and stern.”

Looking back, why do I like making dolls and toys, especially the ones look primitive and childlike? I can’t agree more with Margo Jefferson. Expressive dolls are not changed or influenced by adults or the rule of the society or the standard of beauty, or let’s say, the rule of “who you should be”.

Compared to portraits photography from any magazine with a standardized smile or serious face, these expressive dolls are more lively and diverse, they showed their true characters and emotions in front of you, which made me feel real, real than Barbies, real than photos, real than people around me. So I trust these dolls, they became my best friends, by showing me their characters and emotions.

I never understand human, they are too complicated. Compared to human, dolls are much simple and comfortable to stay with, human may hurt you, leave you, judge you, betray you, but dolls won’t. Dolls will only accompany you.

For my next project, I want to research more about dolls and make expressive dolls reflecting different emotions.



London, UK
2018.12. 4


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