I hear a lot about local museum events because I am really interested in culture and history and I really love spending time in museums. I like to bring my son with us because he likes to explore the exhibits and we make learning about history and other ways of life something we do on a regular basis.  My son says “If you don’t learn about history, you’re doomed” and I hesitate to let him know there is more to that quote because his fervent belief in those words hopefully helps him get his social studies homework done it a timely way.

The Museum of Anthropology is particularly special to us because it houses some of my family’s carvings and while I did research for an upcoming article one of their curators was very generous with her time. While we were on the call she told me about an upcoming exhibit of puppets which I’m really excited to check out (including at least one puppet from my territory – I am Kwakiutl.)

This was the information they shared with me about this event:

The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC presents an immersive exhibition animated with light, sound, and moving images — Shadows, Strings and Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets, on display from May 16 to October 14, 2019. Curated by Dr. Nicola Levell, an associate professor of museum and visual anthropology at the University of British Columbia and sought-after independent curator, this enchanting exhibition details the role puppetry traditions have played from generation to generation in the transmission of cultural knowledge, stories, and values around the world. Visitors will have the opportunity to view more than 250 handcrafted puppets drawn from MOA’s collection — the largest in Western Canada — plus, new acquisitions from China, Brazil, Italy, Java, the UK, and France revealed to the public for the first time.

“Puppets are fabulous storytellers and precious knowledge holders. They are educators, entertainers, and satirical commentators, spanning different cultures and millennia,” says Levell. “Then as now, it is the human hand and imagination that bring puppets to life and capture our attention. Although puppetry traditions have been threatened by political currents and globalizing trends in new media and technology, passionate artists, puppet-makers, and performers continue to create and innovate, drawing on novel storylines, materials, and techniques. Shadows, Strings and Other Things explores the art of puppetry, revealing that no matter the origin, size, or medium, puppets are powerful conduits of creativity, activism, and social commentary.”

In Shadows, Strings and Other Things, visitors are welcomed into a grand theatrical experience where five theatre stages demonstrate each main puppet type: shadow, string (marionette), rod, hand (glove), and stop-motion animation. Stages are framed by opulent curtains and lavish, hand-illustrated backdrops, and depict scenes from various puppet plays. The exhibition also offers a glimpse behind the scenes, with displays of workshop settings and storage spaces. Other extraordinary puppets are presented in glass cases, while video booths play moving pictures of different puppetry traditions from around the world.

The exhibition features a broad array of puppets from 15 countries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and spotlights works by artists who frame their cultural traditions through the lens of contemporary culture. Highlights of these superb new works include: the Lu Family’s vibrant and colourful shadow puppets, such as Mu Guiying, a female warrior character whose striking headdress incorporates two long pheasant feathers — a style inspired by traditional Chinese opera costumes; award-winning Indigenous artist Amanda Strong’s haunting stop-motion animation (Four Faces of the Moon, 2016) with a puppet and prop installation of Skull Mountain, composed of 1,000 handcrafted buffalo skulls; wayang kulit shadow puppets from Java, Indonesia, which are used in spectacular storytelling feats involving music, voice, and song that can last from midnight until dawn; and a newly commissioned hand puppet set of Punch and Judy, the beloved English slapstick tradition that dates back to 1662.

Many of the puppetry traditions on display are recognized and celebrated by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This exhibition spotlights how puppets dramatize the human experience in many parts of the world. Shadows, Strings and Other Things is a unique and magical opportunity for visitors of all ages to explore the historical and dynamic qualities of puppetry.

It opens May 16, 2019 at 7pm and the nice folks at MOA were kind enough to share some preview images of the exhibit so you can get a sneak peek. If you’ve never been to the Museum of Anthropology before, you can find it at 6393 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver, BC.

String puppets. By Jorge Cerqueira (Portuguese). MOA Collection: 2956/293 a-b,
956/300. Photo by Kyla Bailey, courtesy of Museum of Anthropology at UBC.
String puppets. By Jorge Cerqueira (Portuguese). MOA Collection: 3105/1-2. Photo by Alina Ilyasova, courtesy of Museum of Anthropology at UBC.
String puppet. By unknown maker (Burmese). MOA Collection: 3307/1. Photo by Alina Ilyasova, courtesy of Museum of Anthropology at UBC.
Hand puppets. By unknown maker (Nahua or Totonac). MOA Collection: 3341/1-9. Photo by Alina Ilyasova, courtesy of Museum of Anthropology at UBC.
String puppets. By unknown makers (Sinhalese). MOA Collection: Eh149, Eh147, Eh164, Eh144, Eh142. Photo by Alina Ilyasova, courtesy of Museum of Anthropology at UBC.
Shadow puppets. By Lu Family (Chinese). MOA Collection: 3338/8-12. Photo by Alina Ilyasova, courtesy of Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

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