The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry unveiled its newest exhibit: “Living Objects: African-American Puppetry” in Storrs Center on Thursday night. It was a packed house as everyone mulled around observing the works of the art around them. The Ballard hosted different types of puppets, from hand puppets to marionettes. After the audience got to take a look around at all the fascinating puppets displayed around the gallery, the curators of the exhibit Dr. Paulette Richards and Dr. John Bell took the time to thank all of those who had helped assemble the display and also went on to mention that the exhibit had been planned to commemorate and to correspond with the 50th anniversary of the African American Cultural Center.
Co-curator Bell also mentioned that one basis of the exhibit was to give visibility to African-American puppeteers and also to showcase this artform that has history within African performing object traditions.
Richards went on to give the history of how certain art forms were disbarred during slavery. “In the period of slavery, the slaveholders prohibited the creation of figurative sculpture from the perspective of slaves,” Richards said. “They were aware that some of those objects were part of religious observance in Africa. They saw them as heathen idols.”
“Slaveholders didn’t want slaves to make certain bonds because naturally they would have organized rebellion. So, we lost that religious aspect of the object performance and we lost the community building aspect of object performance. But, the community section of our exhibit here illustrates how African-American puppeteers, performing art object artists, reclaimed those two traditions,” she later added.
As Richards spoke, she would often direct the audience’s attention to the various categories that the puppets were classified under, such as Puppetry in Storytelling and Puppetry in Community. She also discussed how puppets were used in certain mediums. For example, Richards referred to how some reverends would use puppets in their Christian ministries, which she explained, “brought that aspect of object performance back into the tradition.”
While browsing the exhibit, Taylor Tate, a graduate student studying philosophy, paused to analyze the various art, connecting them to what she was studying.
“I went to a conference and they were talking about the way in which people have expressed philosophical ideas and it’s not always a written word. I learned there that we have a long tradition of using art, and using things like this to get out ideas. Black people have this long tradition of getting out ideas in a way that meets people where they are,” Tate said.
Elise Vanase, a prospective puppetry major, voiced her passion for the art from of puppetry.
“Puppetry is like every single art form in one art,” Vanase said. “It visually tells a story and the idea of visually telling a story by sculpting it with your hands is so cool to me. There’s nothing else like it.”
Dahlia Delahaye is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . She tweets at @thedarlingdolly