Monday, July 6, 2009

The Island of Dolls

Isla de las Munecas (Doll's Island) is a stunning oasis of abandoned, deformed, unwanted, and limbless dolls, and it is where I will be heading on my next vacation.

It is in Xochimico, an area outside of Mexico City where there are many canals.

I have already sorted flight schedules, transfers, etc.

Since stumbling on these wonderful photographs (courtesy of Juan C. Hamparzumian and the Mexico Photography Club), I have not gone a day without obsessing about the island and my impending trip.

It is of special interest to me because I am a lifelong collector of dolls like this. Although there are some traditional dolls in my collection, I am most interested in the generic, plastic doll, a doll often characterized by its (apparent) lack of identity, and low cost. These dolls seem so much sadder to me, symbols of abandonment and abuse.

My collecting is a type of rescue, I suppose, so I treasure them a great deal.

In the 50's, a man named Julian Santana Barrera started to collect dolls found in the trash. He lived on the small island and hung the dolls from trees like scarecrows in order to scare off bad spirits. It is rumored that a girl drowned on the island, so the dolls were also accommodated there to keep the dead girl company.

Her death had a silver lining.

It is impossible to imagine why anybody would not want to visit the island after hearing this fascinating story.

Hopefully, I can spend a couple of days there, even a night or two, and record the lives of these once abandoned personages.

It is bizarre for me to see the dolls in blue above because I have several in my "orphanage".

Perhaps I can gift several to Isla de las Munecas.

It fills me with joy to see that this cat has been employed to guard the island along with its human caretaker.

The photographer is definitely sympathetic to the milieu of these dolls, and has shown them enormous respect in these compositions.

They are truly beautiful creatures, and it is heartening that a true island of lost souls has been found, their souls possibly restored.

Go here to see a video about the island:

I don't know why the silly reporter is so creeped out by the island. Why choose to become a reporter if you're so conservative?

She can't understand why Julian Santana Barrera is "comforted" by the dolls, and she calls the place "weird".

Turns out, she's the "weird" one.


  1. How have I never heard of this island?!

    I must agree with your assessment of the photographer's feelings about his subjects. I imagine it would be easy to exploit the island and its inhabitants as some sort of horror show, but there's not a hint of fear in any of these images, only sadness.

    I'm impatient to see this magical place through your eyes. Will you be vacationing soon?

  2. Trix -- it is truly a diamond in the dust. I have had many dreams about it since stumbling across it.

    Yes, you don't get a sense that exploitation is rife. The island ought to be a protected sanctuary.

    I will visit in the next six months. Other projects preclude immediate flight, even though I'm tempted to "elope" there.

  3. Yow! This oughta be a hell of a trip. Please tune us in on your return.

  4. While money prevents me from going there anytime soon, that is definitely a place to see before I die.

    Absolutely haunting, and I mean that in a good way.

  5. d -- I'm looking forward to it.


    raingods -- Yes, haunting is a good word. Anmd strangely inviting.

  6. Hi Phantom:

    Doing a google search, I found with great joy your blog, with reference to my pictures and visit to the Island. I do hope you visit Xochimilco sometime soon, and if you don't have a tourist guide yet, just let me know and I will take you personally to the Island. It is the "late" rainy season here, so October, November would be better. Thanks again for your words and for your interest!

  7. Hello Juan,

    Thank you so much for writing.

    Your pictures of the island are superb.

    I would love to have you as a tour guide of the island when I visit. It will probably be next year now, unfortunately.

    If you email me at, I will have your address. Then we can stay in contact.

    Thanks for your information on the seasons. Very helpful.

    All the best,

    Mark (Phantom of Pulp)