Beneath the Shadows: The power of puppetry in the Philippines

From a mountaintop school playing with overhead projectors and classroom scraps, to a professional puppet troupe in Manila, Anino has been producing shadow puppet shows for 20 years.

A scene from Anino Shadowplay performance, at Pesta Boneka, Yogyakarta's International Puppetry Festival, 2016. (Photo: Nicole Curby)

Senin, 13 Februari 2017

- Listen to the audio. Music from Pinikpikan and Joey Ayala

From a mountaintop school playing with overhead projectors and classroom scraps, to a professional puppet troupe in Manila, Anino has been producing shadow puppet shows for 20 years.

Nicole Curby recently met members of the Collective at the International Puppet Festival in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta to talk art, evolution and the shadows of history.

Anino Shadowplay

A still from Anino's performance at Pesta Boneka 5, International Puppetry Festival Yogyakarta (Photo: Nicole Curby)

A shimmering blue light swallows the room as intricate images of fish and sea creatures swim across the walls. 

Traditional Filipino music is playing, but it’s got a modern, political twist.  

A crowd is watching the shadow puppetry of Filipino collective, Anino.

“The nice thing about being Anino, being a puppetry group in the Philippines,” explains puppeteer Datu Arellano, “is that we are not bound by tradition. So we invent, we play a lot. We develop our own stories, our own techniques of puppetry.” 

Datu Arellano is one of the longest standing members of the 20-year-old puppet collective. 

Unlike their neighbours in Asia, the Philippines doesn’t have a tradition of shadow puppetry. They’re influenced by Indonesian traditions, and personal experiences. 

“We bring into Anino our own personal experiences with shadow play. Personally I have been doing puppetry since I was a kid,” Arellano continued.

Fellow collective member Andrew Cruz agrees. He first discovered puppetry during the 90s, when the Philippines experienced a lot of blackouts. As kids, they played with blankets, flashlights, and candles. 

Andrew remembers learning as he watched the lights and shadows interact. 

“Then we explore with it and play with it, and then create our own TV show. Cheaper and more practical,” he joked.


aesthetics of poverty

Puppeteer Hazel Gutierrez shows the overhead projector to audiences after the show, at Pesta Boneka 5, Yogyakarta, December 2016. (Photo: Nicole Curby)

Anino has turned this kind of play into an art form. 

Just like they did as kids, Anino cuts shapes with paper and cardboard. They use pieces of plastic, cellophane and whatever is around that can reflect light. 

“Anino uses a philosophy called the aesthetics of poverty,” explains Teta Tulay. 

“So what we use, our materials is what we have on hand there. Whatever you grab as a tool, you can wield it to really mean something for the audience and for us as a collective,” she said. 

Anino started in a school outside Manila. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, overhead projectors were found in every school and church across the Philippines, and many other parts of the world.

Anino started using overhead projectors creatively, magnifying finely cut cardboard puppets, and projecting moving lights. 

And over time, they’ve become addicted to the machine.

“The overhead projector actually allows us to tour, to travel because we don’t have to produce huge puppets,” said Arellano. 

“So everything is at the small scale, all our materials can fit in a small suitcase, and then projector is optional. If a venue has we use it, or otherwise we bring ours. A show can be made portable because of that,” he concluded.


Art as resistance

An image from Anino's performance at Pesta Boneka 5, Yogyakarta, 2016 (Photo: Nicole Curby)

Anino usually addresses environmental issues. But after 20 years of performances, the collective made its first explicitly political statement in this show. 

One vignette featured a tiny bird and its mother being hunted and killed by a rifle, a symbol of generations of innocent victims that suffered under martial law, and through decades of extrajudicial killings.

Artist Teta Tulay believes that with the changes taking place in the Philippines, artists need to take a stand, not just produce a beautiful show.

Since the new president was elected, extrajudicial killings have skyrocketed. This time it’s suspected drug users and dealers that are being targeted.

Then there was the controversial hero’s burial of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in November last year. 

It’s seen Anino consider art as a form of resistance, a safeguard against cultural amnesia.

“We know that in the history of the Philippines also there are many artists throughout the years that have stood up, raised their voices, raised their fists in the streets. But they were victims of extrajudicial killings eventually.” 

Tulay continued, “so now that this issue has resurfaced people are now exposing – or artists are now looking at their history, looking back – at what really happened, particularly in the ‘70s during in martial law.”