Sunday, December 3, 2023

Japanese exhibition revives Tswana doll-making culture

The Japan Dolls exhibition at the national museum could revive the art of making dolls among Batswana, of which pundits believe making dolls is part of Tswana cultural practices that have nearly been forgotten and is near total extinction.

It is hoped that the fascinating Japan Dolls Exhibition will arouse activities surrounding the art of making dolls in the country.

The exhibition at the museum has been seen as another move that could possibly resurrect the culture of making dolls.

The Exhibition, which is currently occupying all corners of the gallery, has left Batswana wondering how they lost track of the dolls making.

“We are more excited about the exhibition because, as Batswana, we used to have our own dolls, known in our indigenous language as “Bo Mpopi”. The dolls were used by children when growing and the dolls were artistically made from clothing material won by our own people. The dolls that are currently on exhibition were used by their children when they were growing up. What is fascinating with theirs is that theirs are more into something they hold in a high esteem. Theirs are more into business and they keep it as artworks in the gallery,” said Monica Selelo, Head of Visual Arts in the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture.

Selelo is confident that the exhibition might influence Batswana to look back and retrace their steps to once again embrace the art of doll making.

Selelo said that Batswana can learn something from the exhibition, especially since the Japanese have catapulted the art into a business venture.

“They take the art of making dolls seriously, unlike us who have left the art to diminish in our presence. We used to have our own dolls that were artistically made. The dolls depicted the culture of Basarwa and BaHerero tribes but the art was never carried along,” added Selelo.

She stated that there is need to value the art of making dolls. Selelo was convinced that if Batswana embrace the idea of doll making, it could also compliment the government idea on diversification drive.

“People can use this artistry as a business model and as an incoming-generating project. The Japanese Dolls Exhibition was an eye opener. We are planning to bring a Japanese specialist in doll-making who can teach our artists about the importance of doll-making,” she said.

Selelo was not happy that Batswana continue to embrace other people’s cultures, living theirs behind to diminish. She stated that, currently, there are artists who are on the verge of reviving the culture of doll making.

Selelo noted that some such locally-made dolls have been taken to Japan for the Japanese to also appreciate Tswana doll-making.

The Japanese dolls exhibition is fascinating and has its own history of the Japanese culture. In the gallery, there is a display of various dolls such as the traditional “Kokeshi Ningyo (dolls)”.
An inscription on the Kokeshi Dolls says that the dolls are known for their simplicity and brilliant colour and are made using Japanese wood turning techniques.

They are divided into two general types, being “Traditional Kokeshi” and “Creative Kokeshi”.

The inscription further explains that “Traditional Kokeshi” dolls are produced in the northeast regions and began to appear in the latter part of the Edo period. It also states that Traditional Kokeshi dolls are further classified according to location of the workshop in which they are made, such as the Nakuka-series of dolls and the Tsuchiya ÔÇôseries.

The inscription further states that the techniques used in the making of these dolls have been handed down from master to pupil to the present day, adding that the Creative Kokeshi dolls are handcrafts that display the true and unrestrained imagination of an individual artist. Further details explains that after World War II , the dolls have been crafted using original techniques of engraving and baking and are appreciated as unique works of art.

Another doll, dubbed “Hina Ningyo”, which is used at the “Dolls for the Doll Festival”, is on a display. It is stated that in Japan on March 3 of each year, families with daughters celebrate the Hina Matsuri, or Doll Festival. It also explained that this beautiful festival is a traditional custom, dating back some thousands of years. On this day, each family set out a number of dolls for display, placing a male-female pair on Hina dolls at the top of the display, as a sign of their prayer for the happiness of their young daughters.

On display is another doll, Noh Ningyo. According to the inscription, the Noh theatre, which had its beginnings in the Muromachi period, (1338-1573), is one of Japan’s great traditional art forms. It also states that Noh, actors wear masks and elaborate costumes as they dance.
Most of the dolls on display have significance to the Japanese.

The exhibition was part of Japan Foundation efforts of engaging in international cultural exchange activities in cooperation with over 130 countries around the world, focusing on three major program areas such as the Arts and Cultural Exchange, Japanese language Education overseas and Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange.

The Japan Embassy, Japan Foundation partnered with the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture for the Exhibition of Japan Dolls.


Read this week's paper