The Ballard Institute will be temporarily closed due to facilities issues this weekend. While you can’t visit us in person, you can see our current and past exhibits online at https://bimp.uconn.edu/online-experiences/
Online symposium, April 9-10, 2021
Organized by Matthew Isaac Cohen, Jungmin Song, and John Bell
Sponsored by the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and the Puppets Arts Program of the University of Connecticut
In societies around the globe, puppets and other performing objects such as masks and cantastorias are used to represent and stage the Other—various ethnicities and races considered different from the dominant group. Such dramatizations of alterity routinely involve caricature and exaggeration. The transformative capacities of performing objects—which allow any practitioner to enact anything or anybody—grant them unique capacities to realize exotic fantasies; inscribe and reinforce racial stereotypes and ethnic misrepresentations; but also to transcend received categories and struggle against modes of oppression such as colonialism, often through parody.
The road to the Holocaust was paved by anti-Semitic puppets, showing, for example, Jews transforming to pigs, inculcating into German children an image of the racist insult Judensau (Blumenthal 2005: 94). America’s most popular living puppeteer, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, is famed for his demeaning José Jalapeño and Achmed the Dead Terrorist figures and other characters who spout racist remarks. Turkish karagöz is replete with caricatures of the diverse population of cosmopolitan Istanbul, with offensive portraits of haggling Jews, stupid Arabs, and others. Beyond such racist imagery, puppetry and allied forms frequently reflects a particular society’s unstated, subtle, and yet systemic and pervasive racism and bias, which is often not even recognized or acknowledged by the practitioners engaging in it (Populoh 2019).
Practitioners have also bravely challenged systemic racism. Masks and puppets representing Vietnamese women made repeat appearances in Bread and Puppet Theater’s anti-war political spectacles in the 1960s and 1970s, providing human form to the abstractions of collateral damage. In his solo street show, Puns and Doedie–Puppets against Apartheid (1981-1986), South African puppeteer Gary Friedman satirized the racist Apartheid regime and raised awareness of the social attitudes that underpinned it. More recently, a “fluorescence” of African-American artists have turned to puppets, masks, crankies, and other performing objects to resist objectification of the black body, counter the grotesque ways that African-Americans have been portrayed, take back their own identities, complexify dominant narratives, and address sensitive issues through humor (Bland et al. 2020).
This academic symposium coincides with the exhibition The Other: Race, Ethnicity, and Puppetry, curated by Dr. Jungmin Song (Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, March 6-October 3, 2021) and aims to draw together scholars of puppetry, mask performance, cantastoria, and other types of performing objects globally in order to problematize representations of the Other, excavate systemic racism in performing objects, and demonstrate the capacities of puppetry and allied arts to challenge racism and xenophobia in order to fashion just, diverse, and inclusive societies. It follows up on the path-breaking 2018-2019 exhibition Living Objects: African-American Puppetry, co-curated by Paulette Richards and John Bell at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, and the accompanying festival, seminar, and online publications (https://bimp-exhibitions.org/livingobjects/).
We invite proposals for 15-minute presentations on topics including:
The representation of ethnic and racial Others in global traditions of puppet and mask theatre
Exoticism, Orientalism, and Othering through puppetry and performing objects
The relation between racist and xenophobic discourse in society and the representation of alterity with performing objects
Puppets, masks, and performing objects as a means for cross-cultural understanding, generating empathy, and communicating with Others
Challenging systemic racism, prejudice, and colonialism through puppets, masks, and performing objects