The Prada Foundation’s New Show Is Devoted to Surreal Photos of People in Love With Their Sex Dolls and Artificial Babies

The exhibition features unexpectedly moving images of dolls as part of the fabric of domestic life.

Elena Dorfman, Rebecca 1 (2001) from “Still Lovers.” Courtesy of the artist.

No art collector loves their sculptures in as intimate and all-consuming a way as the people who are inseparable from their hyperrealistic dolls. The artists Elena Dorfman and Jamie Diamond have documented the lives of the owners who are deeply in love with synthetic adults or children.

Dorfman and Diamond’s images, which include men with their anatomically correct sex dolls and women hoping to fill an empty next with a true-to-life baby doll, go on show in Milan this week in an exhibition organized by the Prada Foundation.

“Surrogate. A Love Ideal” includes more than 40 images exploring unconventional relationships between real people and their human dolls. They range from the lifelike sex-doll companions captured by Dorfman to the painstakingly sculpted “reborn” babies and their carers photographed by Diamond. The intimate portraits lift the veil on usually secretive communities, and offer a nonjudgmental glimpse of their private lives.

Jamie Diamond Mother Cherry (2018) from “Forever Mothers.” Courtesy of the artist.

Diamond’s photographs capture a specific outsider art-making community known as the “Reborners.” These are artists, typically female, who make, collect, and interact with disarmingly lifelike baby dolls. Diamond writes in a statement that working with the Reborner community allowed her to explore “the grey area between reality and artifice where relationships are constructed with inanimate objects, between human and doll, artist and artwork, uncanny and real.”

These changeling children are a comfort to their “mothers,” some of whom may have lost a child or are unable to have one of their own.

Love of My Life 

While outsiders might be unsettled by the grown-up versions of these hyper-realistic dolls captured in Elena Dorfman’s photographic series “Still Lovers,” her portraits capture moments of love rather than sexual deviancy. “Dolls have often played the role of the alter ego and the ideal on which to objectify and generate ethical and cultural discourse,” Dorfman tells artnet News. “What seems to be confusing to outsiders is the complexity of interpersonal relationships that unfold between the owners and their dolls,” Dorfman adds.

Elena Dorfman, Galatea 4 (2002) from “Still Lovers.” Courtesy of the artist.

While the majority of the doll owners she photographed were men or couples, Dorfman’s entry into the community was, perhaps surprisingly, through a woman, whose husband and son also interacted with her doll. Because of this, she says she “felt compelled to explore the role these objects played in several settings and households.”

Both photographers offer surprisingly moving portraits of normal life with these surrogate beings, which Dorfman hopes could be an emotional springboard into a more serious conversation about human interaction.

Dorfman explains that the exhibition’s curator, Melissa Harris, wanted to explore the growing role of artificial objects in human interactions. In an age of artificial intelligence, when apps that can instantly deliver a “vast array” of sexual options, and cosmetic surgery “perfect” faces and bodies, “there is an increasing number of people who chose non-humans as their preferred partners or children—despite the unsettling reality some of these issues present they also offer fertile ground for contemplation and conversation,” Dorfman says. 

Surrogate. A Love Ideal” runs February 21 through July 22 at the Fondazione Prada’s Osservatorio space in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. 

See more of the photographs going on view below:

Elena Dorfman, Lily 1 (2004) from “Still Lovers.” Courtesy of the artist.

Elena Dorfman, Sidore 4 (2001) from “Still Lovers.” Courtesy of the artist.

Elena Dorfman, Ginger Brook 4 (2001) from “Still Lovers.” Courtesy of the artist.

Jamie Diamond 4.12.12 (2012) from“I Promise to be a Good Mother.” Courtesy of the artist.

Elena Dorfman, CJ 3 (2002) from “Still Lovers.” Courtesy of the artist.

Jamie Diamond Mother Kyla (2012) from “Forever Mothers.” Courtesy of the artist.

Jamie Diamond Mother Marylin (2012) from “Forever Mothers.” Courtesy of the artist.

Jamie Diamond Mother Brenda (2012) from “Forever Mothers.” Courtesy of the artist.

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