Little Amal smiles brightly.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Between July and November 2021, one of the most ambitious public art projects is coming to life in the body of Little Amal, a 3.5-metre puppet representing a fictitious nine-year-old Syrian girl. During The Walk, as the four-month long event (July 27 – Nov. 3) is titled, Little Amal will travel from the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep to Manchester, UK, to highlight the refugee crisis. She is searching for her mother and trying to raise funds for refugees in Europe. She would also like to get back to school. The journey will take her through Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and finally, the UK.
It has been called “a travelling festival of art and hope” in support of refugees and brings together celebrated artists, major cultural institutions, faith leaders, schools, community groups and humanitarian organisations. New artist commissions and events have been announced across 8,000km route, involving over 250 partners and artists. Partners include Manchester International Festival, National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Royal Opera House, Roundhouse, İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, İzmir International Puppet Days, The Biennale of Western Balkans — BoWB, UNIMA Greece, Piraeus Municipal Theatre, Piccolo Teatro di Milano, Teatro di Roma, MAXXI Museo, Institut du Monde Arabe, La Villette, La Criée Théâtre National de Marseille, BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles, La Monnaie, Grand Théâtre de Genève, Schlachthaus Theater Bern, Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen and Sommerblut Festival Cologne.
Audiences can follow Little Amal’s journey online as well as attend local events. In each village, town or city she visits, she will be welcomed by major new arts commissions, city-wide community performances and intimate events. Little Amal’s journey begins in Gaziantep with an outdoor light installation of Qanadil lanterns. Slowly, one lantern at a time, the city will become illuminated, revealing a path of light for her to follow. In Cesme (western Turkey), she will follow a path of empty shoes that leads her to the beach. The art installation — created by K2 Contemporary Art Centre — represents the many thousands of people that have lost their lives on the perilous sea crossing.
In Ioannina (Greece), partners from Greece and beyond will come together to bridge the seven kilometres gap between the buzzing city centre of Ioannina and the Katsikas refugee camp, with an outdoor installation of lights and words. Alone in Athens, Little Amal becomes afraid of losing her way. She ties a thread of bright red yarn to a lamp post and leaves a trail as she walks through the city. Coming face to face with a minotaur puppet created by UNIMA-HELLAS, she has to decide whether she will face her fear and befriend the beast. In Bari (Italy), Little Amal is greeted by a large puppet of an Italian Nonna (grandmother), who shares some wisdom on how to overcome the obstacles she might face on the rest of her journey.
As she arrives in Rome, Little Amal’s lost homeland is alive in her thoughts. Memories of war rise to the surface, as paintings by Syrian visual artist Tammam Azzam are projected onto the buildings surrounding her. Following a walk through Marseille’s port and bridges, Syrian filmmaker and visual artist Ammar al-Beik will present Little Amal with a jacket, beneath the mirrored canopy of the Vieux Port Pavilion. In Paris, a refugee camp installation will be created outside the Institut du Monde Arabe and Amal will explore the rows of tents, searching for signs of home.
From each tent, she will see and hear glimpses of shadow art and soundscape, representing the many countries that refugees have journeyed from. In Brussels, dancers, parkour and circus artists will come together with some of the city’s world-renowned choreographers to create a dance piece exploring her traumatic memories of home.
The Ruhfestspiele Festival (Germany, one of the oldest theatre festivals in Europe), will lead the community of Recklinghausen in the creation of a ‘road of welcome’ across the city, with painted pebbles displaying messages of welcome and hope for her. In London, Little Amal is turning ten. Her birthday begins with a dawn chorus performance at the Royal Opera House, followed by a birthday party at the V&A Museum, with children invited from across London.
Her big day ends with a walk through Central London, where she will receive birthday messages from the many friends she has met along her journey. Little Amal’s arrival in Manchester marks the end of her epic journey. Manchester International Festival will present a special exhibition exploring childhood, created with local schools and refugee communities. As Amal explores the exhibition, she will understand that she is ready to begin a new, even longer, journey: creating a new life in her new home. Little Amal represents the millions of displaced refugee children separated from their families. Her urgent message to the world is “Don’t forget about us.” Little Amal has been produced by Stephen Daldry, David Lan, Tracey Seaward and Naomi Webb for Good Chance Theatre, in association with the Handspring Puppet Company, and led by Artistic Director Amir Nizar Zuabi.
It takes three puppeteers to operate Little Amal: a stilt walker who also brings her face to life, and one on each of her arms. There is a total team of ten puppeteers, including two from refugee backgrounds, who have themselves travelled the route. The puppet is crafted from moulded cane and carbon fibre. The Walk has developed an Education Programme which will connect young people from refugee and host communities to forge bonds of friendship. The programme includes a 70+ page Education & Activity pack and Teachers’ Notes in six languages, featuring illustrations by Syrian artist Diala Brisly. Also on offer are a series of free online education events for teachers and educational leaders and “Make With Amal,” an online engagement programme of art activities inspired by Amal’s route. The Walk has a Kickstarter campaign, which invites the public to help to fund Amal’s journey at £1 per step. Rewards include digital postcards, Walk t-shirts, exclusive zoom events with The Walk cast and crew and original artworks by Good Chance Ensemble artist Majid Adin, UK based artist and animator from Iran.
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