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Her dolls speak to the world

April 24, 2014

In A Little Grove, a small community learning space that I am a part of, we often talk about understanding the little boxes we box ourselves into – a box called nation within which we try to confine the essence of humanity – little boxes called schools and colleges, within the four walls of which, we are supposed to teach and learn… boxes that define us and yet ruefully separate us from the rest.

We talk about how teachers are present not only in these little coloured boxes but all around us. In fact if we look around we surely would find so many more interesting people with wonderful gifts all around us, people who are not only doing interesting things but would be more than happy to teach us the same. I recently had the privilege to learn art of making dolls from one such wonderful person – Francoise Bosteels.

Born in 1942 in Aalst, Belgium, Francoise started creating her own little dolls when she was confined to bed struggling between life and death at the age of 16. Trained as a nurse, she came to India 40 years ago to work in villages of southern Tamil Nadu leprosy prevention and care program. Today at the age of seventy she continues to involve in holistic health, education and well being through her artistic expressions. At night, she creates dolls.

About her dolls she writes –

When you made the world,
what did you want?
That your love and justice
to the world expand?

When I make these Dolls,
nothing more do I seek,
than of thy forgotten love
and justice
the Dolls should speak.

Here are few of the dolls she has made –


Old woman saving a tree

Old woman saving a tree

You are now a widow, no woman

You are now a widow, no woman

Villages protecting themselves from radiation coming from Pokhran nuclear test

Villagers protect themselves from radiation coming from Pokhran nuclear test

She says –

The dolls are my language, visible symbols woven into the context of everyday life of everyday people. They tell us that ordinary people are still resourceful and have vitality, still struggle for life and dignity, still hold on to values of sharing and compassion. They tell us about the beauty and love that throbs beneath the ordinariness and boredom of their lives, of the endless struggle for survival. The joy of life pulsates within their wounds and tears.

These dolls challenge our thinking, our very society. They urge us to change, to renounce greed that leads to widespread suffering. They challenge us to resist systems that kill spontaneity and smother creative impulses, in favour imitation, conformism and consumerism.

Last week I went to learn from her the art of making such dolls. Now 72 years old and yet so full of energy she did all that was possible to help me learn. We would sit from morning till evening handling wires, cloth, needles, carefully cutting and stitching the edges.

The following are the hand works she helped me make. I love trees, so the first one I chose to work on was the same she had once made – of an old woman hugging the tree she so dearly loves. The second was an African doll that I really liked.

Old woman protecting her tree

Old woman protecting her tree from any harm

African doll

African doll

Thank you Francoise for so kindly teaching me the art of making dolls and more importantly for letting us know that so many wonderful gifted teachers are present all around us.

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