The 3rd Macau Puppet Festival features until April 15 the exhibition Asian Puppets, based on the collection of Macau-based artist Elisa Vilaça. It also includes several puppet shows to be held this weekend. Ms Vilaça talked to mART about her passion.

By Sofia Jesus

Elisa Vilaça’s love for puppets grew with her throughout the holidays she spent on the countryside in the north of Portugal. Her grandmother used to build dolls with cloths or corn silk, and used those dolls to tell stories to her grandchildren.

“It’s really a passion,” she tells mART, recalling how she also used to watch puppet shows at the beach, and how she started building her own dolls as time went by.

Puppets marked her childhood, but they would also help her mark others’. When she came to Macau in the 1980s and started working as a kindergarten teacher in a class full of children that only spoke Chinese, she used puppets to get closer to them. “It was a way to catch their attention.”

For years she has been using puppets for pedagogical purposes. She believes there are many areas of knowledge that educators can explore through the use of puppets, such as history, geography, and even language.

But the millennial history of puppets is not related to children’s tales — that is something much more recent. As Ms Vilaça tells mART, religion was the basis for the development of puppetry throughout the world. And in Asia, it is still much associated with religion.

About 15 years ago, Ms Vilaça — who has a Master in History — felt the need to learn more about the context of puppets in the world, and started researching on the topic. From their origins to the techniques used, she has been trying to gather as much information as she can. The task is challenging, as the art of puppetry has always been associated to oral tradition.

Puppets from Asia

Besides building her own puppets — such as the ones she will manipulate tomorrow at a show in kindergarten D. José da Costa Nunes — Ms Vilaça has also been collecting puppets from all over the world, through acquisitions, donations or exchanges. The exhibition Asian Puppets, which is being held at Casa Garden until April 15, under the 3rd Macau Puppet Festival, features around 70 puppets from Ms Vilaça’s “small collection,” as she describes it.

The puppets featured in the exhibition come from a number of countries in Asia, including China, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Indonesia, according to the artist. They showcase a total of four different manipulation techniques, including water puppets, which are unique from Vietnam, she tells mART.

In addition to the exhibition, the 3rd Macau Puppet Festival — organised by Casa de Portugal em Macau with the support of Orient Foundation — also includes a number of puppet shows. Tomorrow, Friday, March 31, at 10.30 am, Ms Vilaça will be presenting the puppet show Red Ridding Hood, at kindergarten D. José da Costa Nunes. On Saturday and Sunday, at 3 pm, in Casa Garden, the Hong Kong Puppet and Shadow Art Centre will present the The Vaudeville and Drunk Zhong Kui. Also on Saturday and Sunday, in the same venue, at 4 pm, Ms Vilaça will present In Chants, with live music with Tomás Ramos de Deus and Miguel Andrade. On Sunday evening, at 6.30 pm, Sérgio Rolo will present the show Mono, at the back box of the School of Arts and Crafts of Casa de Portugal em Macau, at Nam Fung industrial building, in Hak Sa Wan area.