Saturday, December 30, 2017

Why Tosh Fomby Creates Black Dolls

With her permission, Tosh Fomby's article, "Why I Create Black Dolls, Part I," is shared below.  This post serves as an introduction to her doll art as well as an introduction to the Black Dolls, Black Makers WordPress platform she created for "dollmakers of the Diaspora to share their art and adoration of crafting cloth dolls."  The link to the forum follows her interesting article, which details the reason she creates black dolls.
Why I Create Black Dolls, Part I
by Tosh Fomby

Like writers, artists have to find their voice. It essentially becomes our brand in which audiences identify. As a mixed media painter, I accomplished that. After exploring every media, I found none were better or worse than the other, as long as what I was using told the story best. And the way I translated best was through mixed media; paper, acrylics, patch n’ paint, beads and buttons. I never knew that would come in the way of dollmaking years later.
After brief pursuit of my MFA, I discovered Yinka Shonibare in a doll magazine. His work was intriguing and I couldn’t stop thinking about those bold fabrics on the life-size figures he built but more than that, there was a message.
While I create dolls for play and some home d├ęcor pieces, my voice is evolving and immersed in the social movement of the 1960s. To tell you how art inspires art, I was watching a morning news show, where a photographer was exhibiting images he’d taken of The Black Panther Party during that time. He documented them and those visuals speak to a time that’s a relevant part of African American history. I want to tell stories of our consciousness through a different media, particularly referencing women of color. They were instrumental to the movement but they had no voice.
brave24This particular doll is called Brave and part of The Heritage Collection. It was inspired by the social movement of the 60s and into the 70s, where fashion is concerned. The collection was also inspired by Maasai women; their tall stature, long jeweled necks and the strength they also bring to their culture. It’s my tribute to these women of very different worlds and my growth in understanding how we have emerged and become empowered with the consciousness and spirit of who we are authentically.
I have a thing for 70s fashion; the flare-legged slacks, crotchet vests, big hooped earrings, colors, fabrics, etc. To reflect on fashion at that time, it all seemed flashy, hip and downright cool to me. I’m very conservative in dress but I can imagine I would’ve been dressed to the nines had I been old enough for that kind of flash.
Each doll is accompanied with the chair she’s sitting on. With that and the story behind the collection, they become more than dolls. They become sculpted mixed media pieces that speak to a time and place of yesterday and where we are currently; how we need to see ourselves.
The recurring theme in this collection is strength, which is reiterated in the name of each doll. The chair, in context of the doll sitting on it can connote different meanings. I’ll let the viewer arrive at their own conclusion based on what I’ve already stated.ClothDoll1970s3
Pride is what I call the image above. For people who were disenfranchised and made to feel less than, African American people had to raise their esteem and away from what was put in front of them as standards of beauty. Black women arrived at a new consciousness, which has evolved over time, sometimes toward extreme means that says little about dignity or pride but screams ‘Look at me.’ Media platforms have changed and we’ve conformed to giving up pride for something quite the opposite in some respects. 
And here is Rebel. During her construction, I was strictly thinking Black Panther Party after watching Sunday’s CBS Morning Show photo exhibit on TV. There are additional paraphernalia to add with the dolls, like books, Rebel’s black leather jacket and Brave’s matching yellow jacket to complete their ensemble. If you have ever seen the photograph of Huey P. Newton sitting on the wicker chair and armed with weaponry in each hand, that image inspired Rebel.
I suppose you could say these are fine art pieces and their design is vastly different from the heirloom collection I have for young children. I’m equally in love with creating both styles. I created narratives in my mixed media pieces and that’s what I want to carry forward with my dolls as well.
To see more work created by Tosh Fomby , visit Love Totsy Presents and StudioTosh.


Tosh Fomby's forum, Black Dolls, Black Makers includes this and several other articles by Fomby and other cloth doll crafters of the Diaspora.  If you are interested in joining the forum and contributing articles about the black dolls you make, contact Tosh through the contact link at the forum.