Curacao’s Chichi Dolls
A Collaboration of Art, Entrepreneurism, and Community Service
By Patti Morrow
Not only was my “Chichi®” one of my favorite souvenirs from Curaçao, a Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela, it’s one of my favorite artifacts from all of my world travels.
Each one a hand-painted original, these voluptuous clay sculptures open their arms as if to draw you into a loving embrace. “Chichi,” in the Papiamento indigenous language of Curaçao, means “an eldest daughter, sister, or female relative to whom younger family members would go to for advice or emotional support.”
Chichi® is the brain child of Serena Janet Israel, a German artist, designer and restorer who settled in Curaçao in 2001 after spending two years traveling and sailing around the world.
When she first arrived in Curaçao, Serena painted the Chichi’s® herself; but as the sculptures grew in popularity, she expanded the enterprise to employ local women who shared her creative passion and welcomed the additional “chichi money” to supplement their incomes, pay bills or provide special treats for their families. The business snowballed from there, to the point where Serena opened the Art Factory and shops Curaçao in which to sell Chichi® and other works of art.
Each of the exaggerated female forms starts out from a mold created by Serena. This makes it easier it easier to reproduce the figures, which can range in size from as tiny as an inch or two up to several feet. A larger-than-life Chichi® stands at the entrance to Serena’s Art Factory, located near Curaçao’s famous Ostrich farm.
After the Chichis® come out of the mold, almost all are transported to the homes of over fifty local local women whose painting talents bring them to life. “The mold is just half the work. The painting by my craft workers make her the dynamic woman she is,” Serena acknowledges. “My painters are a vital part of the finished product!”
At the Art Factory, there is an atmosphere that radiates artistic energy and inspired multicultural cooperation. “We don’t only teach to paint, we create a new lifestyle together,” says Serena, and adds laughing, “For example we talk about things like ‘don’t walk around with the price tag under your new shoe.’ A woman’s quality is both inside and outside…that’s how Chichis® are painted!”
Since each is a one-of-a-kind hand painted gem, they are not inexpensive, but they are well worth their price because they also represent the fact that Serena pays her workers decent wages. “Chichi® represents that woman we all know who is smart, strong, happy, and caring” says Serena. “Qualities we all strive for.”
Talented, energetic, and warm-hearted, Serena also supports Curaçao’s community by auctioning some of her other artwork to assist in funding vulnerable groups like teenage mothers and childcare.
Since I returned from Curaçao, my own Chichi® has taken up a treasured position in my home – holding court on my coffee table, arms extended in an affectionate welcome to all who enter.
Chichi’s® are available at Serena’s Art Factory, as well as several shops throughout Curaçao such as the Chichi® Store in downtown Punda and folk art galleries around the island like Mon Art Craft shop and Out of the Blue Jewelry & Gifts
To own one of these timeless pieces of Caribbean folk art, though, you must purchase it while you are visiting the exquisite island of Curaçao; the Art Factory does not ship.
In my opinion, it’s a very good reason to plan a trip. Or even a return trip.
Find more of Patti Morrow’s writing at www.luggageandlipstick.com
a beautiful report about Serena and her extraordinary art and soul…..love it much…..you did catch a lot of these unique aspects that stand for the great wonderful woman Serena, one of her kind!!! Will share this article and thank you again……Serena did moondance into the heart of Curacao and keeps doing so……sign of hope that people like her are in this world…….
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