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When dolls tell the tales of everyday life

Sushanta Talukdar

Creations by a Belgian artist now based in Bangalore

Guwahati: Do dolls speak? Those made by the Bangalore-based Belgian artist Francoise Bosteels over a period of a quarter of a century do so — metaphorically, of course.

They were here on Tuesday to tell tales of everyday life, of the pain, poverty, many faces of violence, of hope, exclusion, hunger and homelessness in rural India.

In her own words, the dolls are an expression of her 30-year-long integration in India — each has a story to tell, each has a meaning for her — inspired by the situation she found people to be in, by the social commitment of friends and companions and by articles and books she read.

An exhibition of Ms. Francoise’s dolls organised by the North East Social Communication was inaugurated here by Assamese singer and painter Mihir Bordoloi.

It was a colourful display of variety: from women learning to write their names on slates, women carrying vegetables in hand-made palm leaf baskets, men at street-corners ironing clothes, farmers, the tailor stitching suits and many other themes of day-to-day life in rural India. Ms. Francoise has exhibited 150 dolls here.

Born in 1942 in Aalst, Belgium, Ms. Francoise started creating her own little dolls when she was confined to bed struggling between life and death at the age of 16.

Trained as a nurse, she came to India 30 years ago and started working in villages of southern Tamil Nadu in social and health education programmes and in leprosy prevention and care.

The simple life

“The simple ways of village life fascinated me. My fascination became an aesthetic experience that was translated into dolls. I worked at night when everything was calm and peaceful. Then in the dark of the night do I seek the secret of people’s pain and celebration,” Ms. Francoise said at the inauguration of the exhibition.

It takes more than 12 hours for her to make a doll. She uses ordinary materials: colourful cloth, strong paper ribbons, pipe-cleaners, cotton balls, wool, thread and discarded bobbins, banana and coconut fibre, palm leaves, bamboo, tamarind skin, small plastic boxes and bottles and other material she finds around her.

‘My language’

“The dolls are my language. They tell us what it means to lose your dignity; your roots and identity, to lose your land and your job, your childhood and livelihood and your humanity. They tell us that ordinary people are still resourceful and have variety, still struggle for dignity, still hold on to values of sharing and compassion. They are part of me, and I, a part of them,” said the 65-year old artist.

The colourful, evocative tales told by Ms. Francoise’s varied dolls have inspired many people to write poems, prose and spiritual messages that have found a place in two books: The Dolls Speak and Through the Needle’s Eyes: Everyday Life of Everyday People.

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