On October 19th, a young Syrian refugee will cross the Channel and step ashore in Kent towards the end of a long journey. But this coming ashore will be different to so many others. This young “girl” is actually a puppet called Little Amal, and her journey is a way of highlighting what life is like for young and unaccompanied refugees.
When I heard about Walk With Amal, it set me thinking about puppetry as an artform and how striking it can be, combining art & craft with drama & performance. It uses materials, colours and shapes to create a mobile artwork which can personify a character or an experience in powerful ways. The character of Little Amal began life on stage, when Good Chance Theatre performed the migration-themed play The Jungle, set in Calais.
Walk With Amal demonstrates how art can become a tool for activism, for learning and for reflection. It can draw together crowds, be a focus for events and make people reassess and think again. An artwork can prove more memorable than a report or media feature. We need the reports and features as well, but art and creativity can help share them. Puppetry becomes symbol.
I’ve experimented with making a simple hand puppet, but this is a world away from that! Little Amal was crafted with great care and skill by the Handspring Puppet Company, which became more widely known through their work for the play War Horse. Moreover, she stands 3.5 metres tall, an eye-catching sight as she moves along.
And she has covered some ground this summer and autumn, nearly 5000 miles in all. Setting out from the border between Syria and Turkey in August, Amal has gone on to cross Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium, finally reaching the UK. Throughout the journey, a diverse programme of events has been organized to publicize the Walk and to reach new audiences and communities and different ages. Many have been outdoor events, like a nature walk at the UNSECO World Heritage Site of Pamukkale in Turkey, famed for its thermal baths.
A range of events has also been planned to welcome Amal to the UK. Once she arrives in Folkestone on 19 October, the Walk will move on to Dover and then to Canterbury for a pilgrim’s welcome at the Cathedral (a traditional place of pilgrimage). Other cathedrals feature when Amal reaches London, where there will be prayers at Westminster Cathedral and an event at St Paul’s – as well as a fairground event in Lewisham and music & d ance at the Globe Theatre. Events will mark Little Amal’s journey northwards through Coventry, Sheffield and Barnsley to Manchester, where the Walk ends. Manchester’s event has the evocative title “When The Birds Land”.
At a time when craftivism is engaging many more people in art and craft for change on different levels, Walk With Amal showcases the power & scope of image & creativity to capture imaginations and to embody a cause.
Would you like to share thoughts on puppetry or on art and craft as activism? Or maybe you plan to attend a Walk With Amal event? It would be great if you’d like to share in Medley’s Facebook group group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Or to learn more about the Walk itself, go to https://www.walkwithamal.org