I am Francoise Bosteels from Belgian origin. India has been my home for the last 49 years. I am happy to give you a brief introduction to the art work I have been involved with since then.

Dolls in Life’s Musings
As a child I loved to play with dolls. I dressed and undressed them, bathed and nurtured them. I treasured each one of them in my childhood days.

I was sixteen when a sickness threatened my life. I was confined to bed for months. It was during this time that I started creating my own little dolls with the material my mother gave me. While struggling between life and death, I could sense the rhyme and rhythm of life streaming out from my heart into the dolls I created! Each became colourful and alive. They evoked experiences and stories in my life’s musings. Thus the dolls slowly grew into expressions of my playful imagination. I began to listen to the ‘cry’, ‘laughter’, ‘play’ of life along with my dolls. In the womb of solitude a profound self-surrender to the mystery of life subtly welled up within my inner being.

Dolls Evoking
The dolls of which I speak here do not have lips to speak and eyes to see with; their body expression, their whole condition -their position: sitting, squatting, bending, kneeling, lying or standing, the clothes they wear, and the environment in which they are set-, tell us a story. They evoke, through their body language: joy, grief, despair and emotions which cannot be captured with words. What is novel in these dolls is the miniature world they represent enacting what is believed to happen in the larger world. They convey to us a concern for those on the margins of society. They express a vision and a longing for a better world.

Incredible India
Years after I discovered my creativity, I chose to live my life in India. The simple way of village life fascinated me: little girls leading the sheep to green pasture and mountain streams, children with scant resources fashioning things from scraps and wastes to play with, men who nurture trees and prune them and the flower-man on the bicycle. Familiar sights such as women carrying vegetables in hand-made palm-leaf baskets and water in pots and jars, women weaving bamboo baskets, men in the street corner ironing crumpled clothes or beating the drum in harmony with the earth around, have also touched me. Translated into the creative spirit behind these dolls, my fascination became an aesthetic experience. I work at night when everything is calm and peaceful; at night in silence, solitude and tranquillity of heart. Then in the dark of the night as the dolls take shape and come alive I seek the secret of people’s pain and celebration.

In the course of time, the experience of life in India, the situations I found people in, the day-to-day events, the social commitment of friends and companions, and my own reflections and insights from life, gave more meaning and purposeful depth to the creation of dolls. They began to reflect Indian life not only with its breath-taking variety and unique beauty, but life with its gripping and enduring tragedies.

A New Language of Songs of Joy and Sorrow
The dolls are my language. They tell us what it means to search each day for scraps with which to survive the next day and what it means to work hard the whole day and walk a long way just for a pot of water for your thirsty little daughter. They tell us what it means to be a victim of battering. They tell us of the endless column of homeless people making their way nowhere and what it means to lose your dignity, your roots and identity, to lose your land and your job, your childhood and livelihood and your humanity. They tell us that such people are still resourceful and have vitality, still struggle for dignity, still hold on to values of sharing and compassion. They tell us about the love that throb beneath the ordinariness and boredom of their lives and struggle for survival and that there is still beauty in this broken, often brutal and damaged world, a beauty I received and made my own.

My dolls are an expression of the long process of my integration into the Indian reality. Each has its story to tell, each one has a meaning for me.

They embody and express something of my experiences, search, and questions, of my dreams, hopes and discoveries, of my tears, protests, anger, prayer and celebrations. They are a part of me and I, a part of them.
Perhaps dolls like these could help people recall their history of resistance to oppression and their struggle for life and dignity. They could invite us to join hands across the world in dissent against further destruction of all living things and of Mother Earth herself. They could offer us new depths in our understanding of the mystery of relationship to oneself, to the other, to the earth and all living subjects and to the Divine. My dolls are images, inviting us to new insights and fresh commitments and reminding us that it is from the depths of people’s cry for justice and freedom, for peace and life that the Divine speaks to us.

The Experiential Warmth of the Dolls
The experiential warmth of the dolls is a reason for their appeal to so many who encounter them during exhibitions in and outside India.

Those who view them say that these dolls speak a thousand words. “They are about people forgotten in our memory. Though silent, they eloquently give them a voice. Though static, they bring a deep insight into day-to-day life with all its hues, charms and sorrows.” Many express the feeling that these dolls bring tears to their eyes, kindle their thoughts and wake them from their slumber. One is drawn into re/discovering one’s own compassionate depth. Others say that these dolls play a critical, transformative and humanizing role in society by touching and activating not only the head but the heart too. They not only speak to the rational but to the affective; pondering over each of them will linger in their memory.

Viewers also say that existing perceptions and notions of morality and preconceived social values and practices are being challenged in a novel way, thus impelling them from within to humanizing commitments. The dolls invite them to face uncomfortable questions on social inequality. They invite them to face pertinent questions on the ongoing process of brutal and massive destruction of life with its great diversity and of the earth itself on a scale that has no parallels in history.

Following the exhibition in Fu Jen university Taipei, a teacher writes that the questions of her graduate students and even their tears tell her how powerful the language of the dolls is, raising deep questions ranging from the cry of the poor to globalization, from economic development to social responsibility, from power politics to ecological concerns, from the plight of women to social movements and solidarity, in the spirit of hope, believing that a better world is possible.

Truth Invoking
Viewers are saying that “Through these dolls, God is speaking, God is challenging. Truth is speaking. Dolls here are like prophets who speak sharply to the people of our times. What is important is that believers of diverse religions irrespective of their being Hindu, Muslim or Christian, Sikh or atheist, respond to this novel way of striking a note of compassion in their heart and making them aware of their oneness.” “The dolls may have a different message for different people in different situations and people of diverse faiths. Or the same word may be heard, interpreted and expressed in various ways by many kinds of listeners. However, the invitation that is addressed to everyone to look, to ponder, to seek and to act still stands.”

The Divine presence
The experience of creating dolls has been for me a way of exploring and deepening my own faith. The stories of my dolls are the stories of my encounter with the Divine in the journey of my life. They dolls are reminding us that the Divine is here and everywhere in the heart of human realities and of the whole of creation. He/She has always been present and at work in this land, speaking his/her word of love, liberation and freedom. The dolls are a reminder of the Divine purpose in creating this marvellous earth and in echoing His/Her challenging question: “Where is your sister? Where is your brother?” and a reminder in expressing the Divine anger and tears for the numberless wounded and tortured children. The Divine is here to strengthen every voice raised against injustice and oppression.

Rhyming for Life
The best way to assess the social, human, ecological and spiritual message that the dolls convey is the poetry, prose and spiritual writings which some committed people have written. They found meaning and were inspired by the dolls. It is often the narrative the doll suggests that brings the writer to tell his/her own narrative.

Many of those writings can be found in the present book: “The Dolls Speak” and the later publiations: “Through the Needle’s Eye; Everyday Life of Everyday People”, and “Human Icons, Sacred Stories”.

In Conclusion
Do try to listen with the heart to what these dolls figures might be telling you about your own people, to the questions they might be posing, and the promise they might be symbolising. May we then sing to the Divine a new song offering to each other a richer and fuller humanity.
~ Francoise Bosteels www.francoisebosteels.blogspot.com


Women Heal the Earth

She bleeds.
With every slash on her body she weeps!
The electric saw cuts deep….cuts quickly.

And slowly the forest dies…. the soil dies…. the earth dies….
God knows that the earth weeps, and weeps with her.

She bleeds.
With every battering of her body she weeps!
His hand has power.… It cuts deep into her gentle soul.
We all weep!
Slowly the women die…. The community dies….
God knows that the women weep, and weeps with them.

The women resist the saw of the profit-seeking contractor.
The women use their wounded bodies to save their trees.
They cling to trees, defying death.
They stop the saw. They stop the flow of blood.
They heal the forest. They heal the earth.

The women resist the violence,
the power of the arrogant and strong.
The women transcend suffering and pain to save their lives.

Women of the CHIPKO movement, women of the earth,
women survivors of violence, women of hope….
They weep no more. They heal their bodies. They heal the earth.…

~ Aruna Gnanadasan