104-1.jpg (65374 bytes)Magic Powers of Dolls
When I look at a doll I feel it is not just an inanimate object. For me it has a mysterious breath of its own, there is a divine reflection in it of the distant heavens to which the human soul aspires in an attempt to comprehend why man has been put into this world. Or maybe a doll hides a bright flash of recollection about the image of humans in the paradisaical heavenly garden? Man has always been creating representations in his own image made of stone, clay or wood, believing his creations are imbued with mysterious, incomprehensible, powerful forces, immeasurably mightier than his own.

Impressive pre-historic paintings, discovered on rocks and walls of caves and dating to the Palaeolithic times can be regarded as evidence of the fact that man from time immemorial had had an urge to create representations of himself, of animals and plants. Man, in his attempts to overcome the primordial, atavistic fears, created dolls which he imbued with magic powers, performing rituals in sacred groves, and temples. Man appealed to dolls created by him for help and protection.

There were all kinds of dolls-idols in the times of old. Some of them could live for ages – idols made of stone or little charms made of bone. Ritual “dolls” were put to all kinds of uses: they served as guardians of the domestic hearth, they were representations of gods that commanded the elements of nature — the wind, lightning, thunder, plus a lot more. There were idols-dolls of zoomorphic shapes too. With the passage of time these idols-dolls were losing their magic nature and gradually they were put to other uses. And then came the time when dolls began to be treated as toys, souvenirs, things to be given away as gifts, to be used as puppets in theatrical performances.

I call “a doll” anything that acquires a nature of its own and expresses this nature in a specific outward manner. A doll reveals itself only when it is being played with. In the civilised epochs, the main feature of dolls is to carry with itself memories of childhood into the adult world. Dolls are a reminder of playful mythological worlds. All of this makes dolls an inherent rather than accidental feature of any mature civilisation. In many cases a too-close resemblance to what a doll makes a parody of, much too great naturalistic appearance, too big an emphasis on details can do more harm to the doll than good.

Dolls have been in use in Ukraine since very early times. Natalya Rudyuk is an artist who creates dolls of great artistic merits. Her dolls are closer to what might be called “sculpture” rather than to dolls proper. Her creations are collector's items, good to be exhibited in a museum. She does not make replicas, so all of her creations are literally unique.

Natalya Rudyuk works very carefully and meticulously, she possesses a wide knowledge of history of arts, history of dress. She has skills of an experienced tailor and sculptor. Each of her creations lives in a world of its own, filled with pulsing, living fluids, a world of the fairy tale or of actual history. Many of her dolls represent the ancient Slavic mighty heroes and deities, created by the poetic imagination of our ancestors. Incidentally, most of the ancient-Slavic deities were humane, not too complicated, even mundane and they were patrons and protectors of people. They personified various forces of Nature, they had resounding names: Dazhboh, Veles, Lada, Yarylo, Kunailo. For the ancient man the whole cosmos was alive, everything had a spiritual side to it in addition to purely material: the heavenly bodies, and rocks, and rivers and forests. All of these things were worshipped and made sacred at pagan celebrations and feasts. There were untold numbers of spirits and gods that were considered protectors of plants and animals, particularly domestic animals (many of which were offered as sacrifices): bulls, cows, horses, goats and sheep.

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For many centuries two religions — paganism and Christianity — coexisted in Ukraine in harmony. Rudyuk's dolls-sculptures possess some very ancient features of paganism. The goat was one of the ancient totems, connected with the idea of fertility and productivity. The goat was also a permanent feature of winter, New Year and Mardi Gras festivals and carnivals. Natalya Rudyuk uses some of these ancient beliefs in her artwork. She has created a whole series of dolls, which represent participants of such carnivals, wearing goat coats, and masks, with brightly painted horns, holding tambourines (symbols of the sun), playing flutes. The doll representing the goddess of the sky Kolyada is made to look running, escaping from the dark evil forces, looking for a place to stop and in safety to give birth to a new sun, to a new year.

The dolls-sculptures, which represent the pagan gods and spirits of the eternally regenerating nature, are particularly impressive. They seem to be awakening from a magic sleep, they appear to be weightless, made of air pierced with the sun and moon rays. Berehynya, the protectress of the living plants, wears a dress made of homespun fabric; a fruit-bearing tree spreads its branches above her head; a wondrous bird of paradise is perched on one of the branches. Berehynya promises people to provide them with a good harvest. A similar toy tree was used as part of decorations of a bridal costume.

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Troisti Muzyky Dolls
(a traditional Ukrainian group of musicians made up of three people playing a fiddle, a tamburine, and xylophone).

Natalya Rudyuk gives a lot of her attention to the centaur, an image of man still in the grip of Nature. Sotnyk (colonel in the Cossack troops of old times) with his handlebar moustache is one of such centaur-like images. He has a horse's body, his soul must have been blended with the soul of his horse. But he wears a military-style jacket with all the Cossack insignia; he holds a Cossack banner in his hand. He seems to be in the thick of a battle, surrounded by fierce enemies but he himself remains unvanquished, holding high the banner of his regiment, urging his comrades-in-arms to stand their ground. Looking at this Sotnyk I seem to hear the disturbing sounds of the military bugle. The Sotnyk's wife is also a sort of a centaur but wearing a typical seventeenth-century dress; her long hair is braided. The bellicose spirit of the Amazons is felt to be living in her. In Ukraine the intrepid horse-women were called “kosachka,” the word derived from “kosa” (long braided tresses), the symbol of their independence.

The Man-Bull Doll wears something that looks like the night sky embroidered with either decorative stars of fragrant apples. Thanks to this “deep night-sky” effect the figurine seems to be much larger than it actually is, it looks as though it is capable of protecting you from the invisible dark forces, and a fairy-tale bird perched in the Man-Bull's body will put you to sleep by its sweet lullaby.

Natalya Rudyuk shared with me some of her artistic secrets:

“I put my wishes into my dolls. I draw these wishes on the palms, draw lines of happiness. Through such lines you can put some special qualities into people — stubbornness, bellicosity, for example, but you can give these qualities the positive, good energies, a will to achieve. The lines on the palms of my dolls tell the whole truth. So, this is my wish — I wish that everybody would be happy.”

I believe the artist has managed to create a poetic vision of the world, all her own. She sings a hymn to Ukraine, the country that will rise to her full height and will show her full beauty to the world.

All the dolls in the picture have been created by Natalya Rudyuk.

Natalya Rudyuk was born in Kyiv, graduated from the Institute of Theatrical Arts under the tutorship of Daniyil Lider. She has been working for twenty years now as a scenography artist at the Franko Drama Theatre. The French Encyclopaedia of Theatrical Arts has an entry about Natalya Rudyuk.

By Svetlana Lelyukh
Photos by Kostyantyn Kononov,
Olexandr Lipsky

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