“A doll is the ultimate objectification of a woman’s body,” Banks explains. “It’s a mass-produced archetype of a woman.” The artists featured in the book, she continues, have employed dolls for this reason: as symbols of objectification through which to develop new, contemporary visions of the female nude in art.
Banks traces this narrative back to 17,000 B.C., when nude women were first pictured in cave paintings. Broadening our definition of what a “doll” can be, she argues that the term can be used to describe any depiction of a female form that is devoid of humanness, or portrayed solely as the physical shell of a person. This timeline moves through the first female figurines and nude portraits of Grecian goddesses, to more contemporary work, such as
’s portrayals of female genitalia as flowers and
’s Cut Piece
(1964), a performance where viewers cut the artist’s clothing from her body, leaving her naked.
The crux of the book, however, focuses on art created in the past 15 years. Banks has dedicated each of four chapters to the various ways that dolls can be seen in contemporary visual culture: “Blow Up” covers sex dolls and the ways that brands commodify women’s bodies; “Muse” looks at plastic and silicone dolls and the toys that children play with; “Female Gaze” dives into the evolution of gender through dolls; and “Cyborg” examines the roles women’s bodies play in designing for the future. “With the tools once used to objectify them,” Banks writes, “these artists transform women’s bodies into a self-governed pièce de résistance.”