Colby Katz's "Forever Babies" Makes Skin Crawl at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art

I've seen some really strange things covering the arts in Miami. One of the oddest was the Norwegian artist who dressed like a Catholic priest and finger-painted abstract compositions using a desiccated hand he had stolen from a graveyard.

But Colby Katz's discomfiting solo show, "Forever Babies," on view at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, ranks right up there with the ghoul's petrified paw paintings in terms of the creep factor.

Katz, who for about a decade was New Times' main photog in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, typically documents American subcultures, focusing her lens on everything from back-yard brawlers to sideshow performers and peewee pageant queens -- worlds many rarely get to see or even hear about. But with this can't-miss series, she opens the peepers to people whose children have died and who have their infants replicated as dolls to ease the mourning process. While Katz's photos are undeniably beautiful, they are also deceptive at first blush. That is until the repulse factor sets in.

Katz's pictures are of lifeless dolls, fawned over and pampered by heartbroken parents. They are not the classical While conducting research on the artists who make these dolls, Katz learned that some women were ordering lifelike effigies of their children who had passed away. Katz visited first the artists' studios and later the families of the "forever babies" in their homes in South Dakota, Texas, and Florida, where she took the photographs on exhibit.

To make the doll, the artists used pictures of the living babies. Some of the artists, Katz informs, keep scrapbooks or bulletin boards in their studios with close-up pictures of fingernails, veining, and feet to help them achieve the finest of details, which sometimes cannot be seen in the photo a mom sends in.

Katz also found out that some grieving parents have the dolls weighted to replicate the exact pounds the real child weighed at birth. Some have a sound button inserted into the dolls to mimic a beating heart, while others request that their child's ashes be sewn inside the doll.

The mother of a healthy toddler, Katz did not alter her portraits in any way. Rather, she entered the homes of the families unobtrusively to shoot her pictures with an unflinching gaze.

Take a close look at Katz's portrait of Aubrey and you'll notice not only the pacifier and uncomfortable grimace but also a hip defect.

Her arresting pictures of these morbid moppets reveal the artists' keen eye for subject matter outside of the mainstream and one of the more uncommon grief rituals helping bereft families heal. After their owners' complete their grieving process, some of these dolls end up on eBay, where collectors highly covet them.

Katz's photos are a revelation that will undoubtedly stick in your head long after you exit the space. It's a show not to be missed.

See "Forever Babies" at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art (158 NW 91st St., Miami) through October 30. Call 305-490-6906 or visit cjazzart.com 

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