In taking the natural anatomy of a human being and transforming it into a captivating and magical inanimate figure, contemporary artists who create Russian dolls have an affinity for the weird and wonderful. Although, traditionally, dolls are popular objects in Russian art and design, contemporary artists are taking the ancient craft and interlacing it with their own ideas, creating artworks which are unorthodox and intriguing to behold. Molded and crafted with the utmost delicacy and precision, contemporary dolls are constructed using a mixture of modern and traditional techniques and materials. Eccentric and hyperrealistic, these creations are a far cry from typical Russian dolls—which are round, brightly colored toy.
Directors of the International Exhibition of Art and Dolls, Yuliana Taranova and Svetlana Pchelnikova, spoke to Creators about the significance of dolls within Russian culture: "Russian culture is naturally full of creativity. Our culture traditionally makes things by hand and handcrafts objects," Taranova explains. "Also, at the moment people can spend more time on their hobbies- you don't need to work day and night anymore in the USSR. People have a lot more free time to focus on creativity and artworks- in Russia's case- dolls." Pchelnikova continues, "All these stereotypes about dolls being just toys for children are dissipated with contemporary Russian doll artists. Dolls in Russia are true works of art, and each doll has a unique story told by its maker."
Showcasing this art form at its very best, here we look at five Russian artists who challenge us to rethink traditional dolls and their craftsmanship.
Sisters Popovy is comprised of siblings Ekaterina and Elena Popovy, from Perm, Russia. In addition to being fashion designers, they are also professional artists who create one collection of dolls each year. Each is handmade and often influenced by real people. "We don't have a particular ideal. Sometimes we see something special in a person," they tell Creators. "Recently our attention has been drawn to particular features—sometimes not perfect and 'wrong'—and that is very interesting to us. Sometimes we find inspiration in children's faces—they often are more emotional. We try to emphasize charm in obvious defects: protruding ears, uneven teeth, or teeth gaps."
Moscow-based artist Michael Zajkov constructs dolls that look lifted from the early 20th century—with silk and antique lace, which reflect traditional china dolls. Yet far from conventional, Zajkov's dolls are hyperrealistic: constructed from polymer clay, with hand painted glass eyes and mohair. With the use of these fine materials, and with incredible precision, Zajkov's creations appear so real that they are uncomfortable, yet enchanting, to observe.
Tatyana Trifonova assembles dolls that combine the characteristics of elegant women with animals. Often taking the bizarre form of Sphinxes, the hybrid figures challenge perceptions of dolls and beauty.
The storytelling element to Russian doll making is displayed within Lidia Krasko's puzzling and sorrowful figures. With their ghostly and ethereal appearance, Krasko's dolls capture the intensity of raw human emotion.
Also an architect, Polina Myalovskaya creates whimsical dolls which reflect Russian history, ideals, and fashion. "I started making dolls as a symbiosis of my favorite types of art, such as sculpture, painting, and jewelry making," Myalovskaya tells us. "I like to bring to life my ideas and the images that come to my mind."
Interested in more doll handiwork? Check out the International Exhibition of Art and Dolls April 8 and 9 in Amsterdam.