The ancient art of puppetry is being revived in Egypt, albeit in a new way.
The roots of puppetry art in Egypt go back to Pharaonic times. Since then, puppetry art has continued to wander about Egypt’s local neighbourhoods. But it specifically rose to prominence after the renowned musical operetta Al Leila Al Kebeera (The Night of Feasts) saw the light in 1961.
El Leila El Kebeera
Some of the best artists at the time moulded this operetta, rendering it the most celebrated puppet production in the history of this art in Egypt. The artists included Egyptian singer and composer Sayyed Mekkawi, Egyptian singer Mohamed Roshdi, belly dancer and singer Horeyya Hassan, puppeteer Nagy Shaker, and director Salah Al Sakka. However, it was not long before the art experienced a long demise.
Puppets are usually made of wood, and are attached together through hinges known in Arabic as muffasalat. The artist controls the puppet’s movement through the employment of threads attached to the puppet.
In the past years, groups of Egyptian youth who cherish this art attempted to secure its comeback albeit with a modern tinge, and began to collaborate together on puppet productions.
Recently, three young Egyptians decided to realise their passion for puppetry art. Under the name of Muffassalat – which is the Arabic name for the hinges that attach a puppet’s parts together, 27 year old Khaled Ragheb, 29 year old Nour Abdelkereem and 22 year old Sarah Ibrahim founded their puppetry troupe in 2014.
Despite having pursued studies that are unrelated to the field of arts, all three aspired to dedicate their time to the making of puppets, writing of scripts, as well as the delivery of performances which were held in a number of cultural venues including Al Sakia Culture Wheel.
Speaking to TNN, co-founder Khaled Ragheb says he had initially studied electronic engineering but his fondness for marionettes incited him to undertake the latter as his vocation.
Ragheb adds that his passion for marionettes finds its roots in his childhood, and that as a little kid, he always aspired to be one of these puppets that act, sing and dance; all through the harmony of threads. As his passion for puppetry mounted, Ragheb adds, he began to create these puppets using simple materials at home. Upon his graduation from university, he decided to cater to his long-time dream and co-found a puppetry troupe.
Ragheb believes that the art of puppetry was about to become extinct, except that the dreams of some youth revamped it. He adds that there exists an array of marionette troupes that currently perform this art.
In addition to employing wood, hinges, threads, and fabrics in the making of the puppets, Ragheb says he employs other materials that were not originally used in this art. These include tins, especially soda cans.
Different-sized pieces of tins are well-binded using wires to create the puppet. The puppet is then moved using the normally employed threads.
As for Nour Abdelkereem, co-founder of Mufassalat and a holder of a bachelor degree in commerce, he tells me he presented a number of performances in Al Sakia Culture Wheel, as well as schools and national theatres in Egypt. He adds that he is currently working on organising puppetry-making workshops for children and elders, which are scheduled for next summer.
Regarding the continuity of puppetry art in Egypt, Nour asserts that Mufassalat’s performances have secured a high turnout, which exhibited people’s interest to see this art revived, albeit in a modern way that harmonises with today’s children.
Mufassalat has presented a number of performances since it was founded a year ago. The performances include Facebook’s puppets, Donia, E7ki Ya Tamer (Tell The Story, Tamer), and Al Hob Kollo (All My Love).
Nour adds that some youth now ask for puppetry performances at their birthday celebrations.
As for the characters exhibited in the troupe’s performances, co-founder Sarah Ibrahim, a media student, says that the troupe’s main characters are the dancer Halawethom, the old and wise Baba Ibrahim and the rebellious teenager Shankah. The troupe, Sarah adds, plans to introduce other primary and secondary characters in the future.