Week 5: Puppet Taziyeh


Taziyeh Puppets

An important story in Islam is the heroic martyrdom of Hussein.  Hussein was the grandson of the prophet.  After the death of the prophet, there was a problem of leadership.  Two divisions were created, the Sunnis and Shi’ites.  In a constant battle for power, Hussein ended up being slain by the opposing forces.  In the end, the righteous suffer, but this suffering is seen as redemptive and leads to salvation after judgement.     A form of Shiism performance/dramatic narration of the events emerged as a commemoration for Hussein’s martyrdom, called Ta’ziyeh.  These are communal events in which a community gets together to watch and perform this tale. When reading about this art form, I was inspired to put a twist onto it.  Peter Chelokwski, describes the different variations and its developments over time and in different cultures.  One quote stood out to me:

Although many critics have written that this retreat to the provinces had a swift and deleterious effect upon Taziyeh as an art form, a strong case can be made to show that, to the contrary, it purified and preserved it. The Persian village tradition with its sources in popular religion is more simple, organic, and theatrical than the urban tradition.  Its imagination is more closely attached to the essentials of life; it is less abstract and intellectual, less wedded to the spectacular effect…and a far greater potential for coherence and empathy between actor and audience (9).

He goes on to describe rural Ta’ziyeh as the “unconscious avant-garde of the ‘poor theatre’”.  It engages participation and is very dynamic, though stripped down for the use of imagination.  When watching a performance in lecture, I was drawn to how involved the adults were, but how reclusive the children were. I was interested in making a kid-friendly version of Taziyeh.  I was able to make two puppets: Hussein and Shimar.  I think it would be interesting to see this performance as a puppet show, especially with the development of society and decline of this form of art.  I used the symbolic colors of green for the protagonist and red for the antagonist.  I painted Hussein’s face gold and added glitter to show his divine relations as being one of the Ahl al-Bayt.  Though I am not able to make all the characters, a set, more costumes, props, etc. I believe a puppet version of the Ta’ziyeh has the potential to increase the interaction between audience and participant as well as target a younger audience with this profound and important story.