Penn State graduate student's dollhouse project explores teen girl issues

Carlie Fox
December 18, 2019

Art education doctoral student Chelsea Borgman was inspired by feminist artist Judy Chicago’s Womanhouse to develop her own project reflecting females’ experiences. Borgman’s proposal for "Inside the Dollhouse," an art installation revealing the thoughts and dreams of teenage girls, received the 2019 Judy Chicago Art Education Award, which will provide the funding to turn her proposal into reality.

The project, involving a group of five to 10 teenage girls in State College, Pennsylvania, includes building a dollhouse reflecting the teens’ thoughts on social and political issues that affect their lives—not only as students, but as young women. Each participant will create a room within the dollhouse that incorporates their own experiences with these issues, in the hopes of sparking a conversation.  

Borgman, who is pursuing a dual degree in art education and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said Womanhouse has been a huge inspiration for her own research. Womanhouse was a feminist art installation and performance space organized in early 1972 by Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts.  

“In preparation for the award proposal I spent time in the (Judy Chicago Art Education Collection archive)  looking at the planning materials for Womanhouse and considering how I could apply the core concepts to a younger generation,” said Borgman.  

Borgman considers Judy Chicago one of the foremost feminist artists of her generation. “When I took AP Art History in high school, Judy Chicago was the only feminist artist that was listed in the textbook. This says a lot about Judy Chicago, but it also says a lot about our history.”

The Judy Chicago Art Education Award was established by Through the Flower to support artists, scholars and educators who, through their art, research, teaching and leadership, have contributed to ending the erasure of women’s history. 

"Inside the Dollhouse" is intended to represent a culture and history with sexist ideals about women. Borgman said the creation of dollhouses in the United States is a loaded concept, with their focus on the idea that all girls dream of becoming housewives. Also, for boys, dollhouses are often not considered an “appropriate” toy, because they are not masculine. 

“By using a symbol synonymous with girlhood to question the social construction of girlhood, we can really hone in on critical concepts and make stark comparisons,” said Borgman.  

Through "Inside the Dollhouse," Borgman hopes to introduce teen girls to the work of Judy Chicago and other feminist artists. She wants the project to help people to think more critically about perceptions of girlhood. Borgman said the backbone of her project is the issues her participants face, such as eating disorders, body image, abuse, self-harm and gun violence.

“As they create their own mini installation in the dollhouse, I hope they begin to see the power of art to connect disparate ideas and add nuance to complicated political and social topics,” said Borgman. “Girls represent a powerful demographic of political insight and change—it's about time more people realize and appreciate the important views and ideas girls have to contribute to the larger conversation.”

Last Updated December 20, 2019