Spectacular Guardians of Traditions exhibit comes to campus

January 16, 2024
By: Deborah Alvarez O'Neil

Six colorful 12-foot sculpture dolls representing different cultures from around the world are on exhibit at Worcester State this spring. 

The Guardians of Traditions dolls can be seen in the lobby of the Helen Shaughnessy Administration Building, outside the Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Learning Resources Center and in the Student Center. The Worcester State exhibit includes the Caribbean, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, and Granada, all selected for Worcester State based on ethnicities represented in the student body. 

“As the semester begins, The Guardians of Traditions will be in residence at Worcester State for the spring 2024 semester,” said Laxmi Bissoondial, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, which coordinated the exhibit. “It is our hope that it brightens the academic experience for students by encouraging a great academic start to their semester and creates a culturally affirming and welcoming space for our students to learn.”

The dolls are a striking celebration of cultural symbols and artistic design, music, Carnival traditions and folklore. They feature the brightly colored traditional dress of each culture, some with exquisitely detailed masks, headpieces, and jewelry. Each is accompanied by information about its respective culture and a QR code that connects viewers to a website for more information. 

Vanessa Joga, founder and curator of the Guardians of Traditions, came up with the idea for the project as a member of Worcester’s Tercentennial Committee in 2022. The project involved bringing together different community members and organizations to design and create the 18 large-scale dolls that reflect the city’s diversity. 

“We had wanted the project to represent all the diversity that is in Worcester, but that would have been overwhelming,” Joga said. “There are about 63 different languages spoken in Worcester. It’s a very diverse city.”

The dolls were designed by Technocopia, a nonprofit organization that offers common workspace and tools for artisans in downtown Worcester, and built by individuals from the Hector Reyes House program, a residential substance use treatment facility for Latino men. 

“The people from Hector Reyes House found working on the project empowering because it gave them a sense of purpose,” Joga said. “It was a transformative experience for them, and they felt a sense of pride in being able to contribute to such a meaningful and community-oriented project. They told us it was the first time they felt free of the labels that society had put on them.”

The Guardians of Tradition were showcased at the Worcester Tercentennial Parade and since then, have been displayed at various venues, including City Hall and Worcester Airport, and now Worcester State and Clark universities.

Organizers hope the exhibit inpsires students at Worcester State to gain a better understanding of the importance of diversity, to challenge stereotypes and stigmas, and to create a sense of inclusivity and appreciation for different cultural identities represented on campus. The project also aims to educate and inform viewers about the importance of cultural identity and the history and traditions of each represented country.

“The Guardians of Tradition reflects how community can come together to work and cultivate  a cultural identity by affirming our uniqueness as a city,” said Bissoondial. “Art helps to express community values and can be a catalyst of hope, healing, perseverance and expression. This project has increased visibility of the culture, ethnicity identity and the people of Worcester. It gave encouragement of what community cohesion looks like; the hard work, thoughtfulness, organization, and authenticity about the creation of each representative dolls.”

Editor’s Note: Staff writer Nancy Sheehan contributed to this story. All photos by Nancy Sheehan.

Top photo: Students pose with Diablo Cojuelo Papelu from the Dominican Republic on Jan. 11 during the installation of the Guardians of Traditions exhibit at Worcester State. 



Leave a Comment

See for yourself what #woolife is all about.

The best way to learn about Worcester State University is to tour our beautiful campus. Be sure to let your student tour guide know your interests so they can personalize your tour.

See the tour schedule