Egyptian universities have come to the aid of Al-Aragoz, a traditional form of popular glove puppet street theatre threatened by the modern world.
In 2018, Unesco included Al-Aragoz in its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Experts who nominated the craft for inclusion on the list noted that “regular performances now rely on fewer than ten active practitioners, all of an advanced age.”
Nahla Emam, a professor at Egypt’s High Institute for Folk Arts, helped present the case for inclusion to Unesco. She believes Al-Aragoz must modernize in order to survive.
“Al-Aragoz is subject to huge competition from electronic games,” Emam said. “Everyone sees how different what is available to children today is from what was available to previous generations.”
While noting the “great response” from audiences to traditional shows, Emam welcomes attempts “to give Aragoz art a modernist content that guarantees its continuity.”
Among those trying to update the tradition is Osama Mohamed Ali, an associate professor of arts and puppetry at Cairo University. He organised an exhibition in August where 28 of his students displayed puppets they had made.
“We received hundreds of visitors,” Ali said. “We felt the audience’s great familiarity with the designs submitted by the students. We have also received offers to display the exhibits in other places.”