We Need to Talk: The Dollhouse at Mia
This doll, dressed as a servant (in an apron and bonnet), is the only person of color in the dollhouse. For years she stood in the servant’s kitchen with her back to the viewer, but Mia staff removed her from the house in our attempt to avoid offending visitors with a stereotypical image. What we didn’t realize is that we were also avoiding conversations about race and representation in art museums and society.
We later learned that this doll was a favorite of some visitors. Andrea Pierre used the doll to have discussions about race with her two young daughters. She helped us jump-start the conversation about race and representation that we’d been avoiding. Pierre invited her friends Junauda Petrus, Aisha Mgeni, and Erin Sharkey to widen that discussion. Through further investigation, we located one of the archive photographs of the dollhouse, installed at the original owner’s house, where the doll appears in the nursery, tending to a baby in a crib. The women agreed that this was the location where the doll should be returned.
Art is Learning: Andrea
We Need to Talk: Mia’s Dollhouse
We encourage you to take a moment to think about what this doll means to you. Honest and direct conversations about race are challenging but important, and we hope you can start those conversations here. At Mia, we will continue having and fostering them.
For adults and kids, we recommend starting by asking questions to notice similarities and differences in people, and discussing whether people are treated differently because of these characteristics:
What aspects make a person seem the same or different? How would it be if everyone looked, acted, and dressed the same way? How important are similarities and differences among people?
What makes you, you? Is it your hair, your skin, the color of your eyes? Or is it the way you are a friend, how you laugh, or that you love math?
Have you ever been teased, or seen one of your friends teased, because of the way he or she looked? What if you were told you could not do something because you had the wrong color eyes? How would that make you feel?
Now, compare the eye-color scenario to what happens to people based on the idea of race, or the color of someone’s skin. You can talk about the history of discrimination and types of bias that still exist.
It’s important that we all feel empowered to address discrimination when we see it. You might want to discuss what children can do when they experience or witness discrimination.
How Dolls Reflect Society
Dolls have been created and used by people across cultures, time, and geography. In some cultures, dolls are used by adults for protection and spiritual practice; in others, by children for education and entertainment. Dolls convey a society’s beliefs and values about gender, body, and race, often supplying a lens through which to see ourselves. The first black Barbie debuted in the United States in 1963, and the first black American Girl doll debuted in 1993. Before then, large U.S. toy manufacturers only made white dolls.
Imagine never playing with a doll that looks like you. Imagine never looking at a picture book, movie, or TV show with characters that reflect your family. This is why representation matters. This is why it’s essential that TV, movies, dollhouses, and museums reflect the wide spectrum of colors and backgrounds of people in the world.
Mia’s Next Steps
Museums send messages with what they display and how they display it. They also communicate about whose stories are important enough to share. In the United States, museum staff, including Mia’s, are mostly white.
At Mia, we’re working intentionally to address our biases and be more inclusive and equitable in all we do. Our staff and the voices represented in the galleries need to reflect the people of the Twin Cities. New strategies that focus on augmenting the collection with artworks made by and/or featuring women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities are a start. Mia has a long way to go, but we’re committed to making change.
If you’d like to share your thoughts, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.