schools week 7-11 Feb
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SHADOW PUPPETS / OMBRE CHINOISES
Ombre Chinoises or ‘Chinese Shadows’ is an ancient kind of theatre, which can be visually compared with animation. Both need darkness and projected light to allow their effects to be seen, and are viewed on a screen. For thousands of years the sight of shadows playing on walls must have fascinated people, who will have imagined fantastic happenings as they watched. In the 4th century BC Greek writer Plato recorded having watched a procession of shadows across a wall. Soon it became possible to make more visible some of these moving dreams for others to see, by deliberately making silhouettes between the light source and a flat surface. It was discovered that if the flat surface was semi- transparent and viewed from the back, then the shadows would be seen as projected shapes moving apparently without the aid of the human hand – which remained hidden behind the screen moving specifically made puppets.
In more recent history Javanese shadow puppet shows have grown from the earlier Indian version, which were intended to teach the Hindu religion. These elaborate performances lasted all night long and were called Wayang and Purva.
The puppets themselves (called Wayang Kulit) were made from animal hide, the surface of which was decorated with coloured inks. The colour could not of course be seen through the screen, but sometimes members of the audience (usually the men) viewed the show from the side of the screen rather than the front, and so could appreciate these embellishments, whereas the women watched only the shadows. There was usually only one puppeteer called a ‘Dalang’ who would also provide voices and music from the Gamelan (which were a set of gong like instruments.
Over 2,000 years ago there were records of shadow puppets in India and China, but the stories they narrated were different in character, as were the styles in which the puppets were made and moved.
Chinese puppets were extremely delicate in comparison to others, being made of very thin donkey skin, which was almost transparent. There where a great variety of characters which represented various human concerns such as religion, folk myths, and military life.
There are also traditional Turkish shadow puppets, which are more modern than the others. Certain characters from these are very well known and liked throughout the country, perhaps comparable with England’s Punch and Judy or the Commedia del’Arte known to Italians through regular puppetry.
Turkish Karagoz and Hacivat were well known by the 16th century and are still seen today. These are satirical dramas (burlesque) parodying public and political events and as in punch and Judy, the two main characters spend a lot of time arguing and fighting.
Shadow puppets at the Bill Douglas Centre, University of Exeter. Indian puppet made of donkey skin decorated with ink
Animated Exeter is an Exeter City Council initiative realised through collaboration with our partners, funders, and sponsors and we would particularly like to thank South West Screen, Arts Council South West, City Screen, Devon Curriculum Services, East Devon District Council, participating venues, local businesses, animation companies, artists and volunteers for their continued support.