The Museum of Anthropology’s (MOA) hallway grows dimmer as curator Dr. Nicola Levell leads us past scattered red lanterns and towards the looming figure of the 12-foot puppet guarding the entrance of the new exhibit. The exhibit she curated, Shadows Strings and Other Things, contains more than 250 puppets from all over the world, some made specifically for this exhibit.
The exhibit opens up into a dark room and immediately transfers the viewer into a carnival-like atmosphere of magic and storytelling. Each selection of puppets is carefully staged as if during a live performance, with theater chairs and even a green lawn provided for the ultimate immersive experience.
“Puppetry unites us all,” explained Dr. Levell as the reasons behind the cultures and traditions behind the collection. The collection includes puppets from 15 different countries, with pieces coming from Asian and Indigenous Canadian cultures as well as puppets from various European regions such as Sicily and the UK.
The exhibition features 15 different types of puppets and utilises a lot of the objects already with in the museum’s collections.
According to Levell, the history of documented forms of puppetry can be traced back at least 2000 years. She also cites current trends of puppet rediscovery, which reflect a returning artistic interest in analog ways.
“There is this idea that perhaps we are going through a return to hardware theater [and] hardware performance.”
This artistic shift focuses on physical rather than electronic visuals and effects, falling in line with increasing curiosity in different forms of analog production and materiality. An example of this can be found in the popularity of stop motion animation, a form of puppetry which can also be found in the MOA’s new exhibit.
When asked what she hoped students will get out the new exhibition, Levell highlighted her own students’ involvement in the creation of the show, describing how her own students worked with her on the project.
“[They] look[ed] at different puppetry traditions around the world as a means to engage with school groups.”
For visitors to the exhibition, Levell encourages the audience to see the puppets not just as objects, but as a cast of different characters from around the globe. Remembering that each story and puppet serves as a means of storytelling, communication of histories and conversation starters. To challenge visitors, Levell said she wants people to “... reflect on our own engagement with puppets … [W]hat is it that still captivates us about puppetry?”
Shadows, Strings and Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets is on exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology May 16, 2019 to October 14, 2019.