Between light and screen
the magical world of Turkish shadow theatre


23 May – 28 September 2014

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A small fabric screen lit from behind was the stage upon which a number of characters emerged to perform sketches and plays that entertained and delighted audiences. These characters were made of coloured animal skin, and were moved and given voice by a master puppeteer. Yet they seemed to have a life of their own and filled the screen with their lively and often comic personalities.

Shadow theatre has played an important part in the cultural traditions of Turkey for at least 500 years, since Ottoman times. Performances occurred mainly during the evenings of the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, in public spaces and in private homes. They also took place at weddings and circumcisions as part of the entertainment provided.

Shows included a mixture of slapstick comedy and serious dialogue. Although the plays usually followed a set structure, they allowed the two main characters, Karagöz and Hacivat to comment on current affairs. This flexibility enabled shadow theatre to become a means for expressing social and political satire and to evolve across the decades becoming a much loved entertainment form.

This display features a selection of Turkish shadow puppets from the collections of the Museum.

Shadow puppet of a trousseau bearer carrying a tray with flower vases