This thesis explores the production of seven cloth dolls at the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp between August and October of 1945. The dolls, dressed in cultural costume and the uniform of the concentration camp prisoner, can be connected to primary source material from within the displaced persons camp which identifies them as part of the ongoing rehabilitative project of occupational therapy. By examining the act of doll-making as a site of contact between maker, materials, and object, I establish connections to the trauma experienced by individuals within the concentration camp and argue that the dolls mark moments of subjectification in the wake of systemic, genocidal objectification. The cloth doll can thereby be read as a site of identity and memory work, and a materialization of a renegotiated self within the liminal space of the post-war displaced persons camp.
I read the subjectification within the act of doll-making as occurring within two major fronts. Doll-making involved substantial tactile interaction with cloth, including donated scraps of material and repurposed striped prisoners’ uniforms, which activated the potential of fabric as a conduit of nostalgic or traumatic memory. In modifying these fabrics through the permanent actions of doll-making, I argue that the doll-makers exerted dominance over the material and the embodied memory. Further, in the rendering of the human form in miniature—itself reminiscent of both the absent body and the potential for new life—I argue that the doll-makers created sites wherein to define themselves through the anthropomorphic object and negotiate their own temporal status between hope and memory.
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Stern, Alexandra, "Redressing the Body: Subjectification through Doll-Making at the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, 1945" (2022). Art History Theses and Dissertations. 14.
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