SyriA’s pup­peteer hopes to sAve his Art

The Sunday Guardian - - The Week -

DAMASCUS: The last shadow pup­peteer in Damascus lost most of his equip­ment to war and en­dured life as a refugee in Le­banon, but now be­lieves the old Syr­ian art form might sur­vive af­ter the United Na­tions said it needed to be saved.

Last week the UN’s cul­tural agency UNESCO added Syr­ian shadow pup­petry to its list of in­tan­gi­ble her­itage in ur­gent need of sav­ing. “Un­til three or five days ago, it was an art that didn’t pro­vide bread. Now we are think­ing of buy­ing bread and eat­ing bread... I hope for the bet­ter,” said Shadi al-Hal­laq, the last pup­peteer. When he took it up in his late teens in 1993, tra­di­tional shadow pup­petry was al­ready all but for­got­ten and his fam­ily wor­ried he could never make it his liv­ing. He re­vived the art from old sto­ries and his­tory books, and made the pup­pets him­self. They are crafted from camel, cow or don­key hide and each char­ac­ter rep­re­sents a par­tic­u­lar so­cial trait. At a re­cent per­for­mance, Hal­laq used a translu­cent screen, painted to re­sem­ble an al­ley­way in the Old City of Damascus, to tell a story about un­scrupu­lous traders us­ing the tra­di­tional two main char­ac­ters—naive Karakoz and the wise, wily Ay­waz. These two pup­pets, con­trolled with sticks and pressed against the back of the screen with the light be­hind them, so that their shad­ows are pro­jected upon it, are the only ones he has left.

Early in the war, Hal­laq lost his mo­bile the­ater set and 23 other hand-made char­ac­ters in east­ern Ghouta, just out­side Damascus, as the con­flict flared.

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