Black Dolls: The Power of Representation

Films like Black Panther are finally giving children of Black heritage empowering superheroes that look like them – but it’s been a long wait.

We’ve joined forces with the National Trust to launch an exhibition exploring Black dolls and childhood through the 20th and 21st centuries at Sudbury Hall Museum of Childhood in Derbyshire from 16 June to 4 November 2018, open daily from 11am-5pm – including the controversial Golliwogs of the past and today’s Black Barbies.

The exhibition is called ‘Black Dolls: The Power of Representation’ and it’s aimed at all ages and communities, including families. Featuring both historical and contemporary dolls from the Museum of Childhood’s unique collection, the exhibition will take a revealing look at how Black people are represented by Black dolls and Black characters in children’s books – and their impact on childhood and beyond. It will also include Black dolls and children’s books from Museumand’s own collection, from both Britain and the Caribbean.

The Museum of Childhood’s collection of Black dolls includes dolls from a range of countries and girl, boy and adult dolls in a variety of fabrics and materials – from antique and vintage dolls to 21st century examples.

Catherine Ross, our Founder and Director, explains:

“We’ve put together this exhibition to help all communities discover what life was like for Black children growing up in Britain through the ages. Black dolls are part of our shared history and cultural heritage and through the exhibition, we’re keen to discover how both Black and non-Black children experienced them – and their effect on childhood.

Why not come along and see how exhibition compares with your own experience of childhood, or visit with your children or grandchildren for a day out with a difference.”

The exhibition also includes a series of special events:

Exhibition Launch Event – 16 June

The exhibition will launch with a special Launch Event on Saturday 16 June from 11am-4pm – including an introductory talk at 11.30am from Museumand and Professor Sheine Peart, Course Leader for the Special Educational Needs Coordination (SENCO) award at Nottingham Trent University; followed by a guided walkthrough the exhibition with Catherine Ross, Founder and Director of Museumand; and the chance for visitors to share their reflections and responses.

Family Saturday – 21 July

The exhibition will also include a special Toys Tea Party on Saturday 21 July – from 11am-4pm. Families with children of all ages are welcome to come along with their toys for a Toys Tea Party and a welcome from black doll entrepreneur Saffron Jackson-Kerr, who launched her Jamaican Patois (‘patwa’) speaking doll line called Zuree, meaning beautiful in Swahili, in 2016, with dolls available in a range of skin tones and hair textures. There’ll also be storytelling by Madge Spencer and Dorothy McLoughlin (Aunty Mac), craft-making and the chance to devise a communal poem around themes like ‘being me’ and ‘belonging’.

Black History Month – 6 October

In celebration of Black History Month, Museumand will host Have Your Say Saturday on 6 October from 11am-4pm, where members of the public can join in a talk, panel discussion and Q&A about the importance of Black dolls, toys, games, Black characters in children’s books and identity in childhood – inspired by the exhibition – with Dr Jeff Bowersox, Lecturer at University College London School of European Languages, Culture, and Society; Siân Jones, a Teaching Fellow and child psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London; Kandace Chimbiri, author and publisher of Golden Destiny Books and Catherine Ross, Founder and Director of Museumand. The panel discussion will start at 2.30pm.

Ticket prices

The exhibition costs £16 for an adult, £8 for a child or £40 for a family. Group discounts are available at £14.40 for an adult and £7.20 for a child. Discounts are also available if you have a National Trust card.

To find out more about the exhibition or to book your place at one of the special events above call Museumand on 07469 189550 or email hello@museumand.org

Have your say!

How do the dolls and the Black characters in children’s books we have access to as children help shape our identity, self-esteem and experience of childhood?

How can dolls and Black characters in children’s books be used positively to empower our children?

How do dolls and Black characters in children’s books affect the way we see different races and cultures?

Does the lack of Black representation in childhood directly affect Black children’s learning, creativity and development?

Join the debate on Twitter using the hashtag #blackdolls

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