C Magazine


Issue 138

Generations of Play
by Skawennati

For years I’ve had a fascination with two specific types of dolls, the Barbie and the corn-husk doll. While the popular 11-and-a-half-inch fashion doll needs little explanation, the corn-husk doll may require a word or two. Once a toy for Iroquois children (and, certainly many other Indigenous nations, as I’ve seen examples of them from the Navajos and the Aztecs), these little human-shaped figures assembled with dried corn husks are nowadays usually not made as playthings, but as decorative figurines. While the oldest examples had either no clothes, or wore garments made from corn husk too, as time progressed, the dolls’ outfits began to mimic real human beings’ clothing in shape and material.

Today, the most sought-after Iroquois corn-husk dolls are dressed in highly detailed miniature traditional regalia, adorned with tiny, gorgeous beads. There are also legends of the corn-husk dolls, the most well-known of which explains why the corn-husk doll never has a face (a consequence of its vanity!).

In Generations of Play, a triptych, I add a third “doll”: my avatar. Each are dressed alike, and each, like the traditional corn-husk doll, have no face. Generations of Play draws a link between the corn-husk doll, the Barbie, and the avatar, all playthings that allow us to imagine ourselves in other bodies, with other abilities and limitations. I think about it as, “What my ancestors played with; what I played with; and what my descendants will play with.” This piece helps to illustrate that timeline I’ve been imagining, the one that stretches from the deep past to the far future, with Indigenous people alive and kicking along its entire length.

— Skawennati