Amal is the giant puppet that has come as part of ‘The Walk’ from Syria, via Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium and Holland. It is now in the UK, having arrived in Oxford from London.
As a representative of the Oxford Ramallah Friendship Association I attended the meeting of sponsors, before the start of the Oxford event.
Here David Lan, told us the history of this incredible project. Thousands of people, celebrated artists, major cultural institutions, community groups and humanitarian organisations were involved in this public artwork.
It originated from a play called ‘THE JUNGLE’ that he put on at the Young Vic and which went to New York and other cities. This was based on ‘the jungle’ at Calais.
David and one of the other organisers of the play decided to take it further. They decided to use a child in the play, called Amal, who had no lines in the play, and trace her journey from Syria. This was instead of making the walk themselves. He said that children have no voices in the refugee exodus, so they decided on a huge puppet.
They had organisers in each of the countries and were greeted by mayors in Athens, Marseille and in small places like villages near Briancon. Everywhere huge crowds met the puppet.
In Oxford there were 24 supporting groups, centrally the Story Museum, Asylum Welcome and the Mandala Theatre, which provided many of the performers.
This is the 150th Anniversary of ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ and so the idea of Amal meeting Alice is relevant. It is also the 400th Anniversary of the Botanical Gardens, so the first event was Alice meeting Amal in the Botanical Gardens.
This had the ‘Queen’ demanding Amal open her bag. She loses her memories. The Queen also asks where she came from and demands she goes back. The pack of cards, rabbit etc. are involved in a dance, and then Amal and Alice, a newly made giant puppet, go round Oxford to regain her memories.
They go to a place to get a dress made for Eid, by her mother, then to a bakery for bread, then a football game, then to the Weston (Bodleian) Library to get a book, representing the stories she used to enjoy. After that she hears a lullaby but this is followed by memories of war.
Finally they arrive in Christchurch Meadow where there is Syrian coffee, English dancing, followed by Dabke dancing. Finally Amal heads off to Manchester in search of her mother.
All of the places visited had a connection to Alice and told the story of Amal.
The important thing is that it was the biggest event in Oxford that any of us could remember in recent times, thousands at each of the different points. The atmosphere was incredible. Considering it was in support of refugees this was a wonderful initiative. As David Lan said, it was not explicitly political, but considering the Governments attitude, it clearly is.
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