Amiens is well known for its puppetry. This week, students from all over the world came to show off their own puppeteering skills. Their projects were developed under the theme of “Exile.” The youth gathered in the middle of Amiens on Friday, May 18 to rally people to the cause so close to their hearts. Read on for details of their project, an interview with a student and a photo-essay of the puppet march. Their creations are gorgeous!
The sun cut the late-spring chill enough for us to ride our bikes downtown only wearing light sweaters. Amiens is almost on Belgium’s border, so the long sunny days are balanced with a northerly wind. The town’s residents are accustomed, though. People were out on terraces with long drinks and newspapers, some sprawled in grassy areas. The pedestrian streets were rather empty, strange for a Friday, but the university students had all likely fled – exams ended this week.
My partner and I had received an invitation from his friend, who coordinates project logistics for puppeteering organization Le Tas de Sable – Ches Panses Vertes, to join a march of young puppeteers. We arrived just as they gathered in front of the Mayor’s hall. As we locked up our bikes, a flash of red to the right claimed our attention: a few young people were chatting, red cardboard hands etched with phrases – “Ne Fait Pas Ça” or “Ne Dit Pas Ça” – shuddering as the students shifted and stretched.
These students were in Amiens to discuss exile.
They had come to perform puppet shows as the second phase of a larger international project, Objects: War and Peace. The goal of the project is to reconsider violent histories and mass extraditions, particularly in the context of World War I, in order to design a creative narrative that bespeaks modern society. The onus would be on the youth to reconsider and think critically about the consequences and implications of upheaval.
First, students would tackle the main theme, as described on the project’s website:
Exile: situation whereby a person is forced to live away from his/her native land or home, or has been banished or has decided to emigrate. By extension the exile concerns any stay outside the place where we would want to be.
Beyond exodus, students would question “the notions of borders, refugees, uprooting and acculturation.”
The youth came from many countries: seven school groups from France, and then student representatives from India, Morocco, Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, Lebanon and Belgium. They first practiced their puppet shows in their home countries – in the case of the students from India, for example, they practiced for 3 months – and then flew to France to perform.
They would share culture, ideas, and impressions and challenge each other with their projects. The culmination would be a puppet rally where they would engage with the French public. The students managed to enchant this American, too.
As our group walked through the streets of Amiens, I heard a few strains of English. Keen to learn more, I approached student Romsha, from the Shiv Nadar School in India. Romsha was bright and open, eager to tell me of her experiences. When I quizzed her about language barriers, she admitted that communication in Amiens could be a hassle! Only eight students of the whole group spoke English, though some knew French as well, which eased things a bit. But going around the city – crossing roads, looking out for bikes – could be a challenge. Warnings only go so far in a language you don’t understand.
Romsha held a personal stake in the group’s puppet rally: “My family originally is also exiled, because in India, there a lot of people are exiled. So, my people ran from Nepal to India, and then gradually some of them from Kashmir to India.”
The students learned more about their own histories through the project, too. Romsha and other students came away from the project having “connect[ed] with [their] own family, [their] roots, and then understanding everything.”
The highlight of Romsha’s trip, though, was how her group was able to relate with their audience. When I asked her to recount her favorite experience, her words implied that their performances transcended language. “So, of course the standing ovation and all, because they don’t speak our language. French understanding our sentiments and our feelings was amazing. Because they were crying, laughing, they were like… We love this. I was like, really touched by that.”
Although I was unable to see their performances, Romsha’s earnestness convinced me of their impact. The gorgeous puppets the youth had made that morning for their rally could only help.
Collection of Photographs: Exile and Puppetry
Full Interview with Romsha:
Haley: Where are you from?
Haley: And can you tell me what you were doing here today?
Romsha: We were here for a puppet theater, and right now we are in a puppet rally.
Haley: So what kind of puppet show did you do?
Romsha: We did a combination of shadow puppetry and Bunraku.
Haley: Okay, and what was this march today representing?
Romsha: Exile. So basically, we are just here for an exile project. It’s when people are exiled from their own houses and become refugees and other stuff. This is to represent all that.
Haley: Okay, and what do you personally think about exile and the meaning behind this march?
Romsha: My family originally is also exiled, because in India, there a lot of people are exiled. So, my people ran from Nepal to India, and then gradually some of them from Kashmir to India.
Haley: So this march has personal meaning for you?
Haley: Okay, and what was your favorite part about this whole three months when you were preparing, and then came to perform?
Romsha: So, of course the standing ovation and all, because they don’t speak our language. French understanding our sentiments and our feelings was amazing. Because they were crying, laughing, they were like… We love this. I was like, really touched by that. And of course, connecting with our own family, our roots, and then understanding everything.