Ania Machudera’s recent work is inspired by the controversial article published in Macleans’s magazine on April 7, 2007 titled  “It’s not a doll. It’s a baby”.  In the article whose title begins with denial, the author discusses adult women who are adopting/purchasing plastic babies in order to fulfill their maternal drives. The industry calls these babies reborns. They look and feel just like real babies except that they don’t need diapers, explain the women in the article.

 

 “What interests me in this story, says Machudera,  “is the adult women who play make believe mothers.  I try to imagine early childhood experiences of little girls playing house, cribs full of dressed up dolls and I begin to question the stereotyping of young females. I am thinking of what is it that these little girls, now adult women have not received, and why are they being pacified with maternal roles?  Could it be that women’s hyper maternal instincts are the results of generations of play with formulaic toys?

 

Machudera is thinking about formula –women as encountered in Cindy Sherman's photographic artworks, cultural film-play-pals, whom she portrays so well.  Like Sherman’s humorous images of American Sweetheart, Young Housewife, The Girl Next Door, Machudera inserts herself into her painting as an infantile, adolescent mother.  “I see my role as an observer or the other, I am someone who projects women’s “states of mind.”

 

The artist works reductively, extricating female desire, from the cultural formula of maternal desire imbedded in the paternal cultural paradigm.  “Technological industry today, has figured out women”, continues Machudera.  “They know what women are desperate for, and how to benefit from their perceptions of lack in such a competitive market.   

 

Wieslawa Pikula is Toronto artist, teacher and curator.

It’s not a doll.  It’s a baby.

 

Writing the “reborn” doll story for Maclean’s, Canada’s leading current affairs magazine, was one of the hardest I have ever reported, elucidating a range of complicated and confusing emotions, including sadness, disdain and mild disgust. The reborns are like nothing I have ever encountered before: life-like, fragile and helpless - they are tailored to look and feel like babies. Each is painted and repainted, with real hairs threaded into their eyebrows, eyelids and skulls, to give the sensation that you are holding a real being. 

 

As I became more involved in the story, I traveled across Canada to meet with the mothers and gain a sense of what these dolls symbolized in their lives. Each person had their own story, and different reasons for buying these strange, expensive, hand- made dolls. Yet there was a disturbing common thread: visiting these people’s homes, I often felt an overwhelming sense of absence or loss. Some of the “mothers” were unable to have children, and the reborn dolls likely compensated for their own sense of biological inadequacy. Others had lost a young child and had bought an exact replica reborn to replace the loved one who died. 

 

These are strange, difficult and complicated issues, pushing us to the edge of what we label normal, and raising difficult questions about our perceptions of motherhood. Eager to go deeper, artist Ania Machudera reenacted many of the 

scenarios played out by the reborn mothers, exploring her own feelings of motherhood and sense of connection to a plastic doll. Her art explores that emotional journey, documenting how she responded to caring for a doll like a real child. The process encouraged her to question her own response towards parenthood (Machudera has a 12-year old son), and whether her attitudes towards the boy were innate or learned behavior, biological or an ingrained 

response to society’s expectations. In this serious of paintings about motherhood, Machudera is too complex to attempt easy answers, instead she takes us through an emotionally demanding journey that asks timely and vital 

questions. 

 

Alexandra Shimo studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University, and then did a Master’s on scholarship at The Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, New York. In May 2008, she published a book called “The Environment Equation,” which was published in the US, UK, Canada, translated into four different languages. She currently lives in Toronto, where she freelances for a number of newspapers and magazines, including the London- based Independent Newspaper, The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Berlin-based 

Kulturaustausche.