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X66.1214a-b Souvenir dolls


Object Name: Souvenir dolls
Place of Origin: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Cultural Group: Kinshasa
Materials Used: Plastic, leather, hair, beads
Dimensions: H: 10.0 cm, W: 2.9 cm, D: 3.0 cm (H: 3.9 in, W: 1.1 in, D: 1.2 in)
Credit line and Accession Number: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Mrs. Helen Johnson Ardrey. X66.1214a,b

At Victoria Falls, tourists can stay in a Western hotel and, from their dining tables covered with linen, crystal, and English china, watch “authentic” performances of dance and masquerade. At a nearby hotel, visitors leave their tables and the familiar setting of the European-style dining room and walk to a specially constructed “authentic” village to watch staged masquerade performances. In the gift shops, matching dolls are sold. While this may not be a genuine initiation performance, it is an authentic tourist event. A second reality surfaces in the form of the souvenir doll itself, which is simplified and stereotyped in appearance, reflecting tourists’ preconceived ideas of how the “natives” dress and look rather than the reality of what was actually seen. These ideas, usually formed before the African trip, have been shaped by Western travel literature and media. When I show slides of masquerade performances in Zaire, for example, the comment I hear most frequently from American audiences reflects surprise that Zairians wear American T-shirts (the result of American/Zairian second-hand clothing trade). A doll wearing a miniature Oakland Raiders or Farrah Fawcett T-shirt would not reflect American ideas of African dress and therefore would not be acceptable as a souvenir. The basic forms of souvenir dolls must also be readable to the non-African market. In Mombasa, for instance, Kenyan women used a Western doll as a model to create a sellable “African” doll.

Source: Cameron, Elisabeth L. (1996) “Isn’t S/He a Doll?”, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 38

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