by Francesca Bellino. Journalist and writer.
Amal is a giantess, but she is not scary. Indeed, her enormity has aroused euphoria and joy in the many onlookers who came to meet her in the stages of her journey which began on July 27th from Gaziantep, on the border between Syria and Turkey, and which will end in the United Kingdom, in Manchester, on 3 November. Yet Amal is so great not to amuse us or to surprise us, but to highlight the blindness of Europe in the face of the drama of refugees and unaccompanied minors. Amal is a three and a half meter tall puppet who came to show us that we can no longer afford not to see the consequences of the war in Syria and other conflicts around the world that cause death, destruction and indelible injuries to millions of refugees including children separated from their own families, and lost ones looking for a corner of peace.
The idea of impressing people with the gigantism of a childlike puppet turned out to be successful. For those who were lucky enough to participate in the meetings with The Little Amal organized in the main cities of Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, France and England, it was impossible not to be shaken by his sad but alive and sweet eyes and enter empathy with the condition of small refugees. Just as it was impossible not to be happily surprised by the great ingenuity put in place to create the structure of the puppet in molded cane and carbon fiber and by the expert work to animate it by ten puppeteers who in turn give life to the character of Amal, a little girl who fled the war in Syria and set out to find her lost mother.
Amal symbolizes the loss of an entire people after ten years of atrocious conflict, a too-often forgotten drama that has disappeared from political agendas and from the narratives of the mass media. With an innocent expression, Amal came to Europe to tell us, “Don’t forget us refugees.” But she did not do it by asking for help in words, nor by complaining, but by walking through the streets of European cities, from Milan to Marseille, from Brussels to London, with the smile and grace of a child eager for play and love. After all, childhood is poetry that plays with the world and Amal has embodied the poetry of childhood by interacting with the children who ran to greet her as they flock to a party. She has lent herself to every test by agreeing to play hide and seek, and “one, two, three … stars,” to go around the circle and to dance by throwing balloons.
In every city there were crowds of children waiting for her. “Welcome Amal” they shouted, each in their own language, handing her paper flowers made to welcome her, which she accepted in her big hands, with the eyes of adults and children focused on her, all enraptured by the wonder of the proposed performances and by the perfect ingenuity that allows this giant puppet to move easily despite its enormous weight.
Four puppeteers are engaged to give life to Amal who, in addition to controlling a complex network of threads that animate the face, move the body: two people for the arms, one to support the back of the body and one inside who walks on stilts. . Two of the puppeteers have a past as a refugee and have traveled the same path that Amal is taking from Syria to the UK.
This ambitious public art project of which Amal is the protagonist is called The Walk, and was also born to highlight the potential of refugees and to shift the attention of public opinion on the qualities of populations forced into exile and on the opportunities for artistic exchanges and cultural.
In each stage of this long journey of 8 thousand kilometers, Amal met many artists, dancers, singers, actors, directors, writers. In Italy, in addition to having walked from South to North in September, stopping in Bari, Naples, Assisi, Florence, Spoleto, Bologna, Milan, Turin, Sanremo, Ventimiglia, Venice, she stopped in Rome for several days, she visited the MAXXI museum and greeted Pope Francis in a crowded St. Peter’s Square.
“Amal reminds us that meeting vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers among us requires more than just a glance,” said Cardinal Michael Czerny, under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development. “Each of them, with their own baggage of sufferings and dreams, needs and talents, is waiting for us to open our ears, our minds and our hearts as well as our eyes and to extend our hands.”
One of the most evocative performances was the one hosted by the India Theater in Rome in which the audience fell asleep with Amal. The puppet lay down on a large bed lying in the outer space of the theater and started dreaming, allowing the audience to share with her those images that the unconscious projects into themselves, revealing the deepest fears thanks to the installation by Tammam Azzam, one of the most important Syrian exponents of the visual arts residing in Germany. As in a journey to an unknown place, the spectators found themselves inside his nocturnal visions, animated both by nightmares and painful thoughts linked to the lost homeland, to the torn cities and deserted streets, and by memories and affections, horizons of peace to be saved.
Amal’s journey will end in Manchester, home to the highest concentration of refugees and the largest migrant community in the UK. Here there will be a big event called When The Birds Land organized at the Castlefield Bowl to greet Amal in the sign of hope, that hope that she bears in her name. “Amal” in Arabic in fact means “hope” and, repeating her name in chorus, we hope that she becomes contagious and nourishes the journey of those who are still on their way to a safe place, because hope is more than an emotion. It is a boost to the imagination. She gives the gift of the vision of a way out.
Ph. © Little Amal, The Migrant Puppet, Visits Westminster Cathedral – Mazur/cbcew.org.uk