Thank you to everyone who joined us to celebrate Black History Month at our Black Dolls: The Power of Representation exhibition for ‘Have Your Say’ Saturday.
The exhibition launched on 16 June in partnership with The National Trust Museum of Childhood, Sudbury Hall and The National Lottery Collecting Cultures fund. It was originally due to close during Black History Month but was extended until 4 November and on ‘Have Your Say’ Saturday, The National Trust announced that Black Dolls: The Power of Representation will now be extended again due to high demand!
Our guests at ‘Have Your Say Saturday’ were able to enjoy the family-friendly exhibition and the self-guided trail around the Museum of Childhood created by Museumand, before the main event programme began, held in Sudbury’s Parish Rooms. The programme included talks by some very special guest speakers and a panel discussion and Q&A about the importance of Black dolls, toys, games, characters in children’s book and identity in childhood.
Our founder and director Catherine Ross kicked off proceedings with a speech about how and why the exhibition came about and an overview of what’s happened so far.
Our first guest speaker, Dr Sheine Peart, Course Leader for the Special Educational Needs Coordination (SENCO) Award at Nottingham Trent University, gave a wonderful, witty talk that made you think about the exhibition and the feedback it’s inspired. She said that when visitors make statements, museums should sit up and take notice, as they’ve gone to the trouble of sharing their opinions and perspectives. People only do this when they feel the subject is important!
Sian Jones, Child Psychologist and Lecturer at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh shared real statistics and figures with us, giving us the proof that the type and range of toys a child plays with, and the images they see, needs to be addressed. She said that change needs to come immediately, in terms of what manufacturers provide and retailers sell, to improve child development in the 21stcentury.
Unfortunately, Verna Wilkins of Tamarind Books was unable to join us last minute. Tamarind Books was founded in 1987 with the mission of redressing the balance of diversity in children’s publishing and is now part of Random House Children’s Books in the UK. Let’s hope Verna can join us next time!
Jeff Bowersox, Lecturer at University College, London School of European Languages, Culture and Society, is a real expert on the subject of toys and games. He told us about Leo Moss, a Black dolls maker from America working in the late 1800s and early 1900s and Black owned toy companies going back to the 19thcentury, all the way through to the 1980s and the present day. He also talked about the toy company, Playmobil, and the accusations against it in terms of ‘perpetuating ugly stereotypes’ in its non-white figurines. Jeff gave us an example of a figure which has had a lot of criticism recently, described by Playmobil as a pirate who was a former slave. However, the instructions for setting up the figurine instructed the user to put a neckpiece on the ‘slave’ figurine, that looked similar to a slave collar.
Saffron Jackson-Kerr, the creator of the Jamaican ‘patwa’ speaking Zuree dolls, shared her story of how and why she created her company and her successes and challenges in doing so. It was wonderful to hear from a parent that is really doing it for herself and her daughter, and in creating these dolls she has brought joy to many other families.
The talks by our special guest speakers were followed by a relaxed, very enjoyable panel discussion about the importance of Black dolls, toys, games, characters in children’s books and identity in childhood, together with a Q&A.
Our guests reinforced the public’s view that there needs to be a crucial change and action needs to be taken by manufacturers and suppliers of children’s play resources, to ensure the positive development of all children.
Our guests also expressed their views and ideas for Phase 2 of our Black Dolls: The Power of Representation exhibition as there is such a ground swell of interest in the importance of correctly representing all communities, through the toys children play with and the images they see. One guest said, this is more than an exhibition, it has created a movement!
Catherine closed the event with a teaser of what’s to come…announcing that our exhibition will be touring the UK, so it may be coming to a museum or gallery near you, very soon!
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