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WOMEN'S WORK

CUCAS/PAPER DOLL SERIES BY SANDRA FERNANDEZ

WHEN: Through Aug. 18

WHERE: Buffalo Arts Studio, 2495 Main St.

ADMISSION: Free

INFO: 833-4450

Sandra Fernandez says right up front, in her artist's statement, that her work doesn't draw upon the heraldic, academic medium of the many centuries of high art, but consists instead of materials and messages often dismissed by the term "women's work." In this exhibition Fernandez affirms the importance of this "women's work" in creations that celebrate home and hearth and the inner lives of little girls as they learn the arts of womanhood.

"The Cucas/Paper Doll Series" is made up of three-dimensional paper objects incorporating such materials as lace, pages from novels, embroidery and a variety of found objects. They are gorgeous small works with a Latina flare influenced by the artist's childhood in El Salvador. Reminiscent of the religious icons of saints under glass common in Latin American culture, they are like small altars to girlhood dreams and imaginings.

For generations, girls have made paper dolls from kits or from scratch, and the act of cutting, pasting, embellishing and bringing layers of paper to life is close to the work of the collage artist. Fernandez has successfully brought the skills of those crafts to her work, stitching gauze and romantic, text-laden pages together to make miniature outfits. In her hands, it is clothing that describes childhood dreams as much as it replicates in miniature what people wear.

While the materials and methods may be craft-related, the pieces themselves certainly go well beyond craft. "Three Hearts" seems autobiographical with its references to a childhood in El Salvador where she was raised by grandparents, while her parents were elsewhere. The piece is a fully realized doll with long brown hair, accompanied by two tiny, heart-shaped embroidered pillows. One can imagine these pillows representing her childhood longing for her parents, who, though missing, were still cherished.

The artist's present day experience comes into play as well in the form of two pieces about her daughter. Titled "For My Andrea: May You Never Feel Trapped," they are made of the artist's daughter's drawings and footprints. Both feature twig traps, reminiscent of handwoven baskets. Under each trap is a picture of a little girl, one sewn in with broad stitches and the other free. These are not at all scary traps, but more the kind a kid might assemble out of sticks and scraps of cloth. These two pieces have a bit of voodoo magic in them, like a talisman to protect against the strictures of society all daughters must face.

Narrative of one kind or another are implied in many of these dolls. "Fear-y Tales," for example, is a doll dress and accessories made of black lace that bring to mind the witches that inhabit old tales and children's nightmares. "La Virgen del Choclo" shows an ancestor's photo on a skirt, demonstrating how closely women are woven into the practical and spiritual lives of the family.

Though this work may not come from the grand tradition of Western art, it has its own thread of history, so to speak. The dolls conjure images of painted miniatures, lockets filled with the braided hair of loved ones, appliqued quilting, intricate doll house domesticity, and the innocence of juvenile needlework samplers. It is, as Fernandez shows so convincingly in this exhibition, a strong enough tradition to make a life's work.

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