A Land and its Dolls

Israeli Souvenirs and National Identity


National costume dolls as a socio-cultural phenomenon are part of popular a culture that began before the establishment of the State of Israel, and came to its end in the late 1980s; its halcyon days were between the 1950s and the 1970s. These dolls were made by artists, artisans and craftspeople who used an array of techniques and styles, typically employing straightforward methods. Most of the doll makers and designers were not born in the country; some of them had had art or artisan education and others had a modicum of knowledge of the field. The dolls were displayed and sold privately, in souvenir shops or in shops owned by institutional bodies such as WIZO, Maskit and Hameshakem. They were bought as souvenirs, mementoes of a place or an experience, 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.

In retrospect, the repertoire of these national costume dolls evokes memories, and perhaps even yearning. However, the exhibit seeks to expand the scope beyond the nostalgic context and regard these dolls as a symbolic unit that conveys messages and meaning about the period, and the changes that took place over seven decades. The dolls in this exhibit manifest symbols, values and myths that relate 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 which are not. The exhibit attests to the tension embodied in the dolls, while attempting to answer the question: did these dolls - created over the years -reflect, represent, shape or invent the sought-after imagined and hegemonic Israeliness?



Curator: Dr. Shelly Shenhav-Keller

Opens: May 3

Closes: November 15 2011