Sana Musasama


Some recent highlights of Musasama's career include her exhibition at Eric Firestone Gallery this year at Art Basel, Miami and the Art Fair at Jacob Javit Center in New York City. This May, she will exhibit at Harlem 54, again with the Firestone Gallery. In 2022, the National Conference for the Education for the Ceramic Arts honored her with the Life Honorary Membership Award and in 2018, with the Outstanding Achievement Award for her activism work in Cambodia, where she founded the Apron Project, a sustainable entrepreneurial project for girls and young women reintegrated back into society after being forced into sex trafficking. She has volunteered in Cambodia for the past sixteen years, and has worked with over 300 young women. In 2017 and 2018, she was awarded first-place from the ACLU of Michigan Art Prize 7 and Art Prize 8. In 2020, Musasama retired from Hunter College as an adjunct associate professor, where she taught for 26 years. In 2002, she was awarded the Anonymous Was a Woman grant. Currently, She is exhibiting at New-York Historical Society and her work was just acquired for their permanent collection.

Project Description

Topsy Turvey Dolls

Currently, I’m working on the Topsy Turvy Doll series. They are historical dolls that were created during the antebellum period of the United States. House slaves witnessed their children joyfully playing with their master’s children’s dolls and created a doll with two faces–white and black. Only one face can be seen at a time, the other is camouflaged by a full skirt. The mothers instructed their children that if the master was present, to play with the white part, and if the master wasn’t present, to flip to the black part. Learning about this impressed me. The doll represented resistance, rebellion, perseverance, and love. My intention with the Topsy Turvy Doll series is not to pair white-and-black, but to pair different women whose historical contexts link them, as well as women who have been instrumental to my development as a woman artist. For example, Edmonia Lewis is paired with Elizabeth Catlett, Lorraine Hansberry with Maya Angelou, Nina Simone with Winnie Mandela, and Rosa Parks with Elizabeth Jennings Graham. 

This series has dominated my artistic career for the past fourteen years. I have produced 38 dolls depicting 76 women. My vision was to have the dolls wall-mounted, and as they slowly rotated, they depicted two views. But it was an arduous task. In my five decades of creating, it was the first body of work that went beyond my technical skill level. My thirty-eight dolls were ready to spin, but I had no one and no mechanism to make them spin. I attempted it many times, only to waste hundreds of hours resulting in failed attempts. I exhausted my savings. Finally, I stopped working on them and went on to other series that I had complete autonomy over from beginning to end.  

During this pause, I developed six bodies of work. However, I remained both excited and committed to the Topsy Turvy Dolls. I realized that to make the dolls spin consistently and in a rhythmic way, I had to seek out the expertise of an engineer, who taught me that each doll was different according to its fabric, physical anatomy, and mixed-media components. He custom-fitted each doll to a motor that would hold the doll’s weight and depth successfully. This was the field of an engineer—it was not my language as a ceramic artist.

Engineering was an extremely costly procedure, but I succeeded in raising money to get thirteen dolls completed. For the first time, those thirteen dolls were in a one-woman exhibition in the fall of 2022, at Tiger Strikes Asteroid Gallery, NY.

I lack the funding to complete the remaining twenty-five dolls, but this grant can fund more. Each doll costs about $700, including the engineer’s fee, the fabricator's fee, installation, wall mounts, cables, and shipping. If I were given this grant, I could complete seven more Topsy Turvy Dolls. The money would allow me to get closer to a dream deferred—all the thirty-eight Topsy Turvy dolls finally displayed in a gallery, spinning, dancing, and flipping from one monumental woman to another. (Topsy Turvey Doll Video)