STORIES OF THE GRIS GRIS GURLZ
Information about the Gris Gris Dolls
The Gris Gris Gurlz series includes dolls and prints. The dolls or sculptures begin as mass-produced toys from major multi-million-dollar toy companies. Almost all of the dolls appear to be children of European descent and become unrecognizable once I complete them. Not only are they changed into dolls of color but they are completely divorced from their world of mass production and sameness; that sameness-beauty I so desperately wanted when I was a child. I once tried to "feather" my hair with those small-tooth combs they pass out on school picture day. Having never straightened my hair, my parents had to cut the comb out…shearing what I coveted most. What happens when we see ourselves as ugly or other? I was left forever questioning if I was thin enough, pretty enough, and just enough-enough.
My mother left nothing to chance. As a young girl I was taught to love my hair and call it good. I was given a black doll named Tamu and I was expected to love her; treasure her as I did my other toys. And I did tuck Tamu into bed, I listened to her chant pre-recorded messages to me, and presented her to the moon like Omoro did his son Kunte Kinte in the mini-series Roots. I liked her enough, but I couldn’t do a thing with her hair. Her hair was like mine, tight, coiled and the object of so much curiosity in my elementary class. I don’t know if I asked for Tamu or not. I don’t think she had a tv commercial and I don’t remember any kid on primetime playing with her. I don’t remember wanting Tamu but the decapitated Barbie…oh I coveted her. I wanted to do her hair. I wanted to wash her hair, I wanted to put makeup on her face, but my mother said no.
Even if I had birthday money my mother would not allow me to purchase beheaded-Barbie.
“A Tonka truck instead?” My mother was doing her protest-best to ensure I saw myself as beautiful. She told me if I went back to having an afro I would surely look like Shari Belfonte and I liked that idea, but I didn’t believe it to be true. No matter how pretty Pam Grier or Minnie Riperton were, crowned in their Afros, I donned a towel or wrapped a t-shirt around my head and swung my “hair” in concentric circles. Another more powerful narrative rang right in my mind and the narrators were Bo and Luke Duke, Charlie’s Angels and the Brady Bunch. My mother never had a chance.
The Gris Gris Gurlz Series is my do-over. I make these sculptures as a tribute to my mother who doing her protest-best did succeed in helping me find my beauty. My mother is my greatest inspiration. Every time I watched my mother get glammed-up she was showing me “black is beautiful”. Each time I criticized my body type, my mother went higher and critiqued the world of fashion, explaining that mass-produced Western clothes were not built for my brown body. So many lectures were held in fitting rooms as my mother explained that I was not the problem. The Gris-Gris Gurlz are my personal solution. My mother constantly and consistently gifted me with a sense of self-worth by showing me again and again that We are beautiful. “You think you cute?” she might ask me and before I could respond Mommie would say, “Hell yeah you’re cute, foxy even!”
Thank you. Mommie, you are the shiny inside of a prayer I have been singing all my life.