For her 1978-1985 project Tableaux, California photographer and sculptor Ellen Brooks constructed miniature stage sets on which male and female figurines play out domestic dramas that cut to the core of gender roles and expectations. In her immaculately crafted worlds, reality is both shrunken in size and elevated in theatricality, with routine daily frustrations told through heightened allegorical scenes.

Using small dolls, themselves icons of domestic womanhood, Brooks challenges and disrupts the allure of the feminine mystique, providing a window into a female reality fraught with anxiety and insecurity. Her lady characters, unlike her audience, seem never to be disillusioned or liberated, trapped in an endless cycle of Sisyphean household tasks. The tableaux in this way toe the line between satire and serious warning, reminding us both of the strides we have made in the past decades and the challenges that yet remain.

This photo and many others from Brooks’s archive will be on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art as part of Burning Down the House from September 14, 2014 to January 11, 2015.

Image © Ellen Brooks

Discover More