As they prepare for the Cleveland Museum of Art’s 2011 Parade the Circle , six guest artists sprawl their talents out across the large outdoor tent, combining sculpture, painting, scenic design, construction, and clothing design to collaborate on the three giant puppets that will tell the Hindu myth of Shakuntala, the love story of a cursed princess.
Familiar with love stories, the artists worked on puppets for a theatrical South African interpretation of Romeo and Juliet that was performed at the 2010 World Cup. Sbu Sithole, one of the three South Africans who traveled to Cleveland, works with the team to construct the giant puppets but also has the challenge of unfolding the story into the parade. The artists have been working with schools from around the community that will contribute to the story through their own creations. Forest animals—a key prop in the story line—will be represented by some of the kids the artists have worked with, who range from six to twelve years of age. The students have all learned the story and will participate in the parade alongside the puppets.
In the tent, Sithole works on creating a puppet’s hand out of recycled plastic water bottles while French artist Matisse Wessels, South African artist Peter Tobias, and Burkinabe artist Abdoulaye Ouedraogo work on the giant puppet heads. Wessels explains that her favorite part of the experience is being able to combine so many different art forms that are necessary to the process. Experimenting with material is important for the puppets, whose heads alone stand over four feet tall. She gives the example of having to find the lightest form of paint, as to not weigh the puppets down.
Experimenting and collaboration seems key when creating the giant puppets. Siyanda Makatini is a South African clothing designer whose job is to dress the puppets. For the South African story at the World Cup, he constructed a giant puppet-size blazer, lining and all, working with proportions and illusions to make the puppets come to life. Makatini works closely with French puppet technician Stéphane Meppiel, taking measurements of the giant bodies and working out shape and size. For the Shakuntala tale, the puppets will be dressed in Hindu-influenced textiles and garments influenced by traditional Indian styles. As Parade the Circle nears, the story comes together and the artists look forward to the final product. “The spirit of the community here is really great,” says Sithole, describing his experiences so far and impression of past parades. The museum’s Parade the Circle is Saturday, June 11 at noon on Wade Oval.