At Arms Length – The art of African Puppetry 2006

Produced by the Museum for African Art of the USA
World Trade Centre, New York
Curated by Adrian Kohler and Janni Younge

At Arm’s Length: The Art of African Puppetry presented nearly 100 animated puppets, marionettes, and puppet sculptures used in traditional and contemporary theatrical performances from Handspring and the Sogolon Puppet Troupe from Mali. Puppets were juxtaposed to performance videos and photographs, demonstrating the creative possibilities of a true synthesis of the arts of two geographically distinct and historically separate regions.

The Sogolon Puppet Company in Mali was founded by master sculptor and puppeteer, Yaya Coulibaly. Puppet theater in Mali is a popular form of entertainment among the Bamana people. Performances employ animal and human puppets, masks, storytelling, music, and dance to explore both current events and ancient beliefs. Often satirical, the performances give youth an opportunity to comment on current events, engage in social criticism, and perfect their skills as artists and performers. Coulibaly collaborated with Handspring on the production Tall Horse. Some of the puppets from Tall Horse are included in the exhibition along with many puppets from the Coulibaly family collection.

At Arm’s Length included puppets from several Handspring productions including Faustus, Ubu and the Truth Commission, The Chimp Project, Woycek on the Highveld, and Tall Horse. These puppets show the diverse influences from traditions of puppet theater around the world. Japanese Bunraku, Indonesian shadow puppets, German and Malian rod puppets, and contemporary theater are all incorporated into Handspring’s performances.