Black Dolls at New-York Historical Society, February 25 – June 5, 2022

“The New-York Historical Society presents a landmark exhibition that explores handmade Black dolls through the lens of race, gender, and history. On view February 25 – June 5, 2022, Black Dolls immerses visitors in the world of dolls, doll play, and doll making while examining the formation of racial stereotypes and confronting the persistence of racism in American history. The exhibition examines how these toys serve as expressions of resilience and creativity, perseverance and pride, and love and longing. They provide a unique view of the history of race in America, revealing difficult truths and inviting visitors to engage in the urgent national conversation about the legacy of slavery and racism.

Black Dolls features more than 200 objects, including 110 handmade dolls from the private collection of Deborah Neff, commercially produced 20th-century dolls, textiles, books, games, sewing tools, and ephemera from New-York Historical and other collections. Period photographs from the Neff Collection provide important context. Starting with dolls that reflect the horrors of slavery, the exhibition moves through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the beginnings of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.” — New-York Historical Society 

Installation views of Black Dolls at New-York Historical Society. Photos by Corrado Serra.  

“While the names of the women who created these dolls are largely unknown, every stitch that they sewed into place is invaluable evidence of their lived experience, as well as a reflection of the larger historical forces of slavery and its legacy,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “We’re exceptionally proud to present this eye-opening exhibition and are grateful to all the lenders who have made it possible, led by Deborah Neff.” 

Black Dolls is curated by Margi Hofer, vice president and museum director, and Dominique Jean-Louis, associate curator.