Home Shadows, Strings and Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets

Shadows, Strings and Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets

by Meredith Areskoug
String puppets by unknown makers (Sinhalese). MOA Collection. Photo: Alina Ilyasova.

MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY AT UBC, Vancouver BC – To Oct 14

by Michael Turner

This cross-cultural exhibition, curated by UBC Associate Professor of Museum and Visual Anthropology Nicola Levell, features contemporary and historical puppets from more than 15 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas. As well as showcasing familiar faces from MOA’s vast collection, the exhibition marks the debut of recent acquisitions from China, Brazil, France, Italy, Java and the UK – bringing the total cast of Shadows, Strings and Other Things to just over 250 “performers.”

On the topic of puppetry traditions, Levell notes that despite being “threatened by political currents and globalizing trends in new media and technology, passionate artists, puppet-makers and performers continue to create and innovate, drawing on novel storylines, materials and techniques.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in Levell’s expanded definition of the puppet to include stop-motion animation, where static images, each one more forward or backward than the next, are united in motion through fi lm, video and digitization.

In addition to the theatrical presentation of these media-assisted puppets are theatres dedicated to shadow puppets (including performances by the Lu Family’s female warrior character Mu Guiying), string puppets (marionettes), rod puppets and hand puppets (glove). Visitors also have an opportunity to view the tools with which puppets are made, the devices where puppets are stored, not to mention the puppets themselves. “Puppets are fabulous story-tellers and knowledge holders,” says Levell. “They are educators, entertainers and satirical commentators, spanning di erent cultures and millennia. Then as now, it is the human hand and imagination that bring puppets to life and capture our attention.”

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