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October 9, 2021

My first attempts at making felt dolls were painful in more ways than one and eventually aborted.  However, I did do further research as I was beginning to be drawn to the work of Outsider or Brut and did not want to miss an opportunity before going back to navigable path.  Whilst also considering animation I came across a book called Animo about an artist who makes dolls at first glance they do look a little like my first dolls, but the resemblance soon abates.  Michel Nedjar is one of the most important artists in the French Art Brut movement who drew inspiration found on his travels to South America.  His dolls are fetish figures made with waste materials; the result of ‘magic, artisan skills, baroque and death’.  (Feilacher, J. 2008)

In 1972 Nedjar’s first dolls as a tailor were used as commercial products to be sold in Parisian boutiques described as ‘little masterpieces of handicrafts, but nothing more’ made with fine fabrics and high-quality manufacture.  It was later after travelling in Latin America with a friend experimenting with hallucinogenic mushrooms and colourful fabrics found in the Mexican markets and learning about the dolls and figurines used in Catholic death cults and magical rites when his dolls changed.   No longer smooth and well behaved, now, ruffled with troubled grimaces as if ‘liberated from handicraft’.  While the fabric remains an important element; colour, light, and playfulness has disappeared.  Instead shades of earth and grey, the fabric is dyed with paint and sometimes animal blood that when dry appears brittle and fragile. The stitch work is replaced with violent wrapping and tying. Nedjar stopped making dolls in early 1990s and began painting. However, 10 years later when a close friend died of AIDS and the pain was so intense, he ‘felt the need for dolls again’. These figures are quite different, while the fabric is no longer dyed and appear softer, they are coarsely stitched.  At first sight they look more colourful almost cheerful; nonetheless with a patched and eyeless demeaner they seem to have a darker story to tell.  (Feilacher, J. 2008)

Nedjar’s second dolls called the dolls of darkness where representative of the horror and tragedy in his life and that of his friends and family during the Holocaust and discussed by Allen J. Weiss fully in Silent Screams; the dolls of Michel Nedjar.  Weiss considered the words of Nedjar from the radio programme and the screams of mute dolls and the way in which they are performative not sculptural, needing staging, not display, theatre not gallery.  Suggesting that while these monsters lead us to an underworld that is no need for particular of language and for this work, he used a Yiddish babble and imaginary language that seems to make sense of the ‘nonsense of death’ (Weiss, J. Allen 2015)

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