Arts & Entertainment

Egypt’s traditional marionette ‘magic’ lost in a digital world

By Samar Ezzat

Cairo, Mar 2 (efe-epa).- Among rasps, chisels and hammers, Egyptian artist Ahmed Naiem has hung up his marionettes. They, like many other forms of performance art, have been robbed of their audiences by the Covid-19 pandemic.

From his small workshop at home, the 42-year-old Egyptian artist is struggling to survive the crisis as he is forced to move his show and puppet classes online.

“It is not my job at all. I am not a digital person,” he tells Efe. Those who want to learn puppet art need to “do it with their own hands, to see closely how the chisel is supported, how to work with wood … puppets are very difficult”.

Naiem, who was trained at renowned schools in Palermo, Italy, and London, earns his living by giving classes and touring his one-man show that features several characters; Fulan, Mr. Safiha, Zizi the dancer and Marwan, who now hang their heads from the puppeteer’s wall.

The characters are diverse; while Zizi is capable of performing a belly dance, Marwan, designed in 2019, “is depressed — he wears only boxers because he is always at home,” Naiem says.

Marwan has certain similarities with his creator, as the suspension of events and workshops he organized across the country have taken their toll on him. “The fact of being a year without work is a total destruction”.

But Naiem is coming to accept the transition to the digital world, despite the lost magic and intimacy, as he hopes that technology could bring his work to a wider audience online.

On the other hand, Yousef Maghawry, who creates puppets for the state puppet theater in Cairo, thinks that the virtual world “puts a barrier” that blocks the “magic” of marionettes.

The barriers are not only psychological. Only 48.5 million people out of Egypt’s 100 million inhabitants have access to the internet, according to a report issued by the Communication Ministry in June 2020.

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