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It is one of the most symbolic and moving of public art works. On 27 July, Little Amal, a giant refugee puppet, will set out from Gaziantep in Turkey to walk 8,000 kilometres across Europe to the UK, arriving in Manchester in November. Her journey will draw attention to the plight of all the world’s refugees and displaced children.
The project is a collaboration between Good Chance, the theatre company founded in the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, the film director Stephen Daldry, whose credits include Billy Elliot, and the film producer Tracey Seward who worked on the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. They have teamed up with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company who created the powerful puppets for Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse and who have now given life to Little Amal.
To build a puppet capable of such a physical challenge, Handspring carefully crafted Little Amal from robust but lightweight materials such as cane and carbon fibre so that she can be operated for extended periods in varying conditions. It takes four puppeteers to bring Little Amal to life: one on each arm, one supporting her back and one inside walking on stilts. This fourth puppeteer also controls ‘the harp’, a complex tapestry of strings that animate Little Amal’s face, head and eyes.
Amir Nizar Zuabi, Artistic Director of The Walk, says: “It is because the attention of the world is elsewhere right now that it is more important than ever to reignite the conversation about the refugee crisis and to change the narrative around it. Yes, refugees need food and blankets, but they also need dignity and a voice. The purpose of The Walk is to highlight the potential of the refugee, not just their dire circumstances. Little Amal is 3.5 metres tall because we want the world to grow big enough to greet her. We want her to inspire us to think big and to act bigger.”
There will be numerous events staged on each leg of the journey, so that in Rome for example, Little Amal will walk past paintings of bombarded house projected on to local buildings. The paintings are by the Syrian artist Tammam Azzam. At journey’s end Little Ama will arrive at the Manchester International Festival where she will be ‘guest of honour’.
Only one thing is needed now to make this project perfect: a publishing deal. Surely one cannot be long away.