UN­ESCO list­ing gives life­line to Syria’s last shadow pup­peteer

Global Times - - LIFE - Page Edi­tor: huangt­ingt­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

In a crowded dark room, Syria’s last shadow pup­peteer crouches on stage, hold­ing two in­tri­cate fig­ures against a brightly lit silk screen and voic­ing their an­i­mated chat­ter.

Hid­ing in­side his booth and mov­ing the sil­hou­ettes around on sticks, Shadi al-Hal­laq gave a proud per­for­mance on Mon­day night after his dis­ap­pear­ing art fi­nally re­ceived in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion.

Syr­i­ans last week re­ceived news that their war-bat­tered coun­try’s shadow the­ater has se­cured a cov­eted place on the UN’s list of world trea­sures.

“When they rang to con­grat­u­late me, it was like a day dream,” said the pup­peteer, a slim 43-year-old wear­ing a dark grey suit and warm beige scarf.

His two star char­ac­ters – the naive but charm­ing Karakoz and clever friend Ei­waz – would fi­nally re­ceive the lime­light they de­served, he said.

“There’s no one in Syria who masters the art ex­cept me,” said Hal­laq, who learned it from his late fa­ther, a famed sto­ry­teller who per­formed in one of the cap­i­tal’s old­est cof­fee shops.

“There are no reg­u­lar shows any­more, though I have given per­for­mances in a few places over the past years,” said the pup­peteer, who pre­vi­ously worked as a taxi driver.

The ad­vent of dig­i­tal en­ter­tain­ment as well as mass dis­place­ment due to con­flict have con­trib­uted to the grad­ual de­cline of the art in Syria, the UN says.

Only a few such per­form­ers ex­isted in the coun­try be­fore the war broke out in 2011, and a lead­ing shadow pup­peteer has since gone miss­ing.

Tra­di­tion­ally, shadow plays were held in cof­fee shops.

A bright light would project the sil­hou­ettes of the pup­pets onto a silk screen, usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by di­a­logue and mu­sic.

Of­ten in­clud­ing hu­mor­ous so­cial com­men­tary, they would star Karakoz and Ei­waz, as well as fe­male char­ac­ters and talk­ing an­i­mals.

Hal­laq’s char­ac­ters are crafted from cow leather, their clothes cut out with dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns and painted with water­col­ors “so the light can shine through.”

As they move around be­fore an arched al­ley­way, their witty ban­ter en­ter­tains all gen­er­a­tions.

“My au­di­ence are old and young – from 3 years old to old men in cof­fee shops,” Hal­laq said.

Since the United Na­tions cul­tural agency UN­ESCO clas­si­fied his art as “in need of ur­gent safe­guard­ing,” Hal­laq said things are look­ing up for his art and its two stars.

“I thought I would have to bury them,” he said. But now “a bright fu­ture awaits them in Syria. I will tour with them all over the coun­try.”

Photo: VCG

Bol­ly­wood star Farhan Akhtar

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