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The ancient art of dolls: Universal and perfect

March 21 is World Puppet Theater Day. In 2003, the International Union of Puppet Theaters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced this date and dedicated it to the support and promotion of puppetry, reminded by NATFA.

Every year, from 2006 until today, celebrities from the artistic and cultural world are invited to write the message for World Puppet Day. Among them are Caspilia Vatsani from India (2003), Dario Fo from Italy (2005), Senosuke Takeda from Japan (2007), Henrik Jurkowski from Poland (2012).

This year its author is the Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azule:

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azule (Photo: Getty Images)

Celebrated since 2003 on the initiative of the Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA – International Puppet Theater Association), World Puppet Theater Day is an opportunity to pay tribute to an extremely diverse and ancient art.

Ability for elusive movements. Interaction between gesture and illusion, light and shadow. The mastery of the costume, the shape and the sculptures.

The art of drama, generalization and symbolism. Technical virtuosity and poetry. Puppetry is universal and perfect.

I will paraphrase Paul Claudel, dolls are words in action. The dolls, through their living story, can depict everyday life, but also bring to life fairy tales from ancient times. An immeasurable manifestation of cultural heritage, puppetry – whether the dolls are part of a solemn ritual or part of the context of the present – is completely relevant.

“The Frog Prince” by the Brothers Grimm, directed by Todor Valov (Photo: Sofia Puppet Theater)

This is evidenced by the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which so far includes 12 different forms of this art. From Sbek Tom from Cambodia to the Slovak and Czech Puppet Theater, each of the forms represents an exceptional concentration of skill and tradition, and a common heritage that must be preserved.

This responsibility is even more important today, when this fragile art faces unprecedented challenges.

First of all, the Coronavirus pandemic reminded us how much we need the emotional and inspiring power of dolls. At the same time, she tested the existence of puppetry, robbing countless puppet artists of the conditions for practicing their art, depriving them of their already erratic income. UNIMA’s efforts to financially support the puppet artists are invaluable and should receive widespread support.

Beyond the crisis, puppetry faces the same danger as other arts. For this living art, which has to be experienced face to face, moving to the digital realm is a serious concern.

“To put it mildly” by Valeri Petrov, stage adaptation and direction by Tsveti Penyashki (Photo: State Puppet Theater – Stara Zagora)

It was therefore imperative to draw up a plan for the future and consider ways to overcome the crisis, and last April UNESCO launched the global ResiliArt movement for debate, bringing together artists and professionals in the field of art to discuss the challenges in the sector. Thanks to the support of UNIMA, in 2020 15 debates were held with experts in the field of puppetry from around the world. We must now learn from our experience and move forward to ensure that this art exists and spreads so that it continues to inspire us.

On World Puppet Theater Day, UNESCO pays tribute to all who support the flame of this ancient art with passion and, in these difficult times, with courage.

Happy holiday to all dedicated to puppetry and to all to whom it brings delight and joy!

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