Friday, January 6, 2012

The Faceless Dolls of the Dominican Republic

By Robert Nickel

In 1981 Dominican artist Lilliana Mera Lime (pronounced lee-m-eh) made a doll out of red clay, and fashioned with feminine clothing. When it came time to add features to the face, Lime opted for a smooth surface instead of the usual eyes, nose and mouth. How could she represent every individual ethnicity that helps make up Dominican culture, in just one face? Instead, the faceless doll represents every racial group, every indigenous people, every immigrant, all Dominican diasporas the world over. The dolls are called Munecas Lime, or Lime Dolls, after the original artist. Unfortunately Lime's company is now out of business, yet many other artisan companies around Santiago have taken up the task of producing Lime Dolls.

No one travelling to the Dominican should presume to know the culture that lies within the borders of the country. The official language may be based on Spanish, but that does not mean everyone is of Spanish decent and that the cuisine will be the same for everyone. There are many ethnic groups who call the Dominican their home, from all over the world. First there are all the indigenous peoples; mostly Tainos and Caribs descendents.

Relatives of freed West African slaves live on the island. East Asian (Chinese and Japanese) groups have lived in the Dominican for at least four centuries, as have West Asian groups of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian decent. All manner of European descendents call the Dominican their home, from German Jews, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, to Dutch, Swiss and Hungarian groups.

As stated, red clay is the traditional material for making Lime Dolls. After firing, red clay takes on a deep burnt orange colour that is vibrant and certainly eye-catching. Today, new artisans are making Lime Dolls out of other materials such as porcelain, plaster and brightly coloured clays. The result is an array of Lime Dolls with all different coloured skins, much like the people of the Dominican Republic. Artist Lilliana Mera Lime would surely have approved of this variation in her original design, as it embellishes her original message.

Lime Dolls can be found in all manner of dress, from formal church-going clothing to the simple farm clothes of a milk maid. Dolls can be sitting, standing, pushing a plough, harvesting wheat, holding a rosary, anything that typical Dominican women do on a daily basis. Perhaps one Lime Doll will be holding flowers, a cooking pot, an infant or a basket of eggs. Another may have an arm full of baby chicks. There are even Lime Dolls dressed in matrimonial garb. The aim is to illustrate Dominican life, to show its history and simplistic beauty. Support the local economy by shopping the street-side and beach vendors. Go to the boutiques tucked away on side streets. Those are the places to find legitimate Dominican arts and crafts, like the Lime Dolls.

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