Teacher: Who was the first to climb Mount Everest?
Pupil 1: Sir Edmund Hillary, of course.
Pupil 2: There was someone else whose name, I think begins with T…can't he carry all things to the top…? But I forget his name and all that bit of history.
Teacher: Right. Let’s move on. Now, tell me: Who first went to the bottom of the sea?
~Jane Sahi Thus reads one of the picture cards created by Francoise Bosteels, a Belgium-born artist who has been carrying out social and spiritual work in India for more than forty years. Francoise creates dolls that speak to their audience. They narrate the stories of the nameless who have been marginalized by the mainstream society and about the social inequalities that are prevailing in the society.
“Body language speaks; the natural environment in which these dolls are depicted speaks. Without the faces, people are left to their imagination and each doll speaks to them individually; it triggers their emotions. I have my own concepts behind creating these dolls, but the interpretation of the audience is what matters,” said Francoise explaining the rationale behind her faceless dolls. Francoise Bosteels was invited to the School of Graduate Studies, Jain (Deemed-to-be University), by Ms. Vijaya Shanti, a lecturer in the UG Department of English.
Ms. Vijaya happened to see Francoise’s work beforehand and requested her to visit Jain (Deemed-to-be University) so that the students get an opportunity to experience something different. “It is important to get out of the syllabus at times and let the students explore alternative ways of learning. Through this doll exhibition, they got an opportunity to interact with Francoise and learn about the craft and content behind her artistry,” said Ms. Vijaya, explaining the reasons for conducting this exhibition.
The students seconded Ms. Vijaya’s opinion. They were thrilled at the chance they received to work with an artist whose work inspired them. Suma Sowdi, a first-year BSc Life Sciences student at Jain (Deemed-to-be University) was totally impressed by Francoise’s work. “We have to use our imagination to connect the stories of these dolls. The doll exhibit that depicted sexual assault moved me. The way Francoise has depicted it is heart-wrenching and the doll spoke to me about the atrocities faced by the women in our society,” she said.
Some of the students volunteered to explain the concepts behind dolls, which were arranged in stalls thematically. They got the brief regarding the tales of the dolls from none other than Francoise herself and they explained the ideas to the visitors with vitality and compassion. Srija Bhattacharya a volunteer and first-year BSc Life Sciences student at Jain (Deemed-to-be University) had this to say, "I think this is a very unique way of portraying social issues. It attracts the imagination of the viewers, especially young children. These children are not aware of the symbolic significance of these dolls or the stories that they carry, but we can hold their attention and try to educate them about the social inequalities in the society and the need to eradicate them."
Francoise’s dolls are representations of the stories she observes in day-to-day life. “People’s life is sacred and it has to be respected. My dolls are the manifestations of this sacred spirit inherent in human beings, and through these dolls, I try to create awareness about the inequalities and fissures in the society,” she said. Francoise Bosteels intends to persevere with her social work in India until her health permits. Let us hope that she continues to make dolls and inspire the next generation.