Tracing the Production of Chamula Dolls: A Journey of the Imagination
(University of Reading)
Paper short abstract:
By tracing the development of Chamula dolls from Mexico, the process by which artisans adapt their crafts and working practices to both reflect and engender important socio-political change is clarified. Furthermore, by assessing the stock of specific artisans, individual creativity is highlighted.
Paper long abstract:
Souvenir dolls clothed in national or regional dress have often been dismissed as "kitsch" objects of little cultural or aesthetic significance. However, by tracing the life story of specific types of such dolls, the process by which artisans adapt their crafts and working practices to both reflect and engender important socio-political changes is clarified. With this perspective in mind, this paper focuses on Chamula dolls from Mayan Mexico, as an example of material culture produced by indigenous people specifically for external consumption. The dolls are notable since they are dressed in the same handwoven felted wool cloth as the Chamula women who make them. Chamulas' inventive adaptation of their own clothing to make dolls for tourists was driven by poverty in the 1970s. However, a diachronic assessment of the dolls produced since then reveals how changes in their production context have resulted in continuous adaptations to their form. A key example is the development of Zapatista dolls, which are clothed in typical Chamula dress, but with the addition of black ski masks, cartridge belts and wooden guns. These symbols are used in order to represent members of the EZLN; a group of insurgents comprising primarily rural indigenous people from Chiapas, Mexico. In tandem with tracing these general trends, by assessing the stock and production processes of specific artisans, this paper also reveals extensive individual creativity within Chamula doll production. Although routed in Latin American Cultural Studies, this ethnographic investigation works with anthropology and material culture.
Tourist Art and Commodification