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By Nilüfer Ovalıoğlu Gros, ini­tial­ly pub­lished in French in the Con­tem­po­rary Turkey Obser­va­to­ry on May 15 2021.

The rest of this arti­cle, to be pub­lished short­ly, will relate the jour­ney. Lit­tle Amal is cur­rent­ly cross­ing France at the moment, after a halt in the Roya Val­ley. The pan­dem­ic and a few inci­dents delayed the trip, which should end in Man­ches­ter in July 2021.

As this ini­tia­tive is not receiv­ing the atten­tion it should, French media prov­ing more inter­est­ed by anti-migrants than by those who talk about what they know, for instance, we pick up this arti­cle to be fol­lowed by a sec­ond, brought up to date. Thus, every­one will have some idea of the gen­e­sis of the project.

Little Amal – a surprising little girl winding the migratory road from Turkey toward Europe


Lit­tle Amal is a huge pup­pet who will begin a jour­ney of 8,000 km in Gaziantep, the Turk­ish town home to a num­ber of immi­grants near the Syr­i­an bor­der in Turkey. In July 2021, she will cross the South of Ana­to­lia, on foot, accom­pa­nied by a team of pup­peteers. She will go through Adana, Ana­mur, Antalya, Deni­zli, Eph­esus, Izmir, Çeşme and will take the boat to Greece. She will then begin a tour that will pass through Italy, France, Switzer­land, Ger­many, Bel­gium and land in the Unit­ed-King­dom. Her jour­ney is intend­ed as a way to cast light on the cri­sis around the wel­com­ing of refugees. From the height of her 3,5 meters, Lit­tle Amal rep­re­sents mil­lions of chil­dren forced to leave their home in des­per­ate circumstances.

This project, The Walk, was cre­at­ed by the the­ater com­pa­ny Good Chance, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Hand­spring Pup­pet Com­pa­ny, by the world-renowed South African cre­ators of the pro­duc­tion War Horse, under the artis­tic direc­tion of Amir Nizar Zuabi, award win­ning drama­tist in Jerusalem and for­mer asso­ciate direc­tor of the Young Vic in Lon­don. Pro­duc­er Stephen Daldry, Eng­lish direc­tor, the­ater direc­tor and pro­duc­er, known for his his pro­duc­tion of the musi­cal Bil­ly Elliot and the film The Hours joined them for the real­iza­tion of the project.

Lit­tle Amal’s walk evokes the inher­ent impulse to mobil­i­ty in human his­to­ry, since the begin­nings of the lay­ing down of the first com­mu­ni­ties. Lit­tle Amal’s jour­ney is rich with his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al traces of wan­der­ings, trav­els, exiles and migra­tions across con­ti­nents and cen­turies. The lit­tle girl as arche­type is embed­ded in the col­lec­tive mem­o­ry of the Mesopotami­an region where the mobil­i­ty of men and women is a strong fea­ture, and where the first com­mer­cial roads were laid down. In region­al tales, the lit­tle girl takes off for an ini­tia­to­ry voy­age, search­ing for her unknown broth­ers, or else she fol­lows a mys­te­ri­ous suit­or through moutains and forests. She rep­re­sents the anx­i­ety of and around this girl-child on the unknown roads, filled with dan­ger, far from home.

The Ana­to­lian region in the south-east is the repos­i­to­ry of now-tabu sto­ries about chil­dren and women exiles who per­ished on these roads, notably dur­ing the Armen­ian geno­cide in 1915. These tales com­bine, shoring up region­al tales and myths.

On her road toward the Aegean sea, Lit­tle Amal will pass through the ter­ri­to­ries of Home­r’s Odyssey, the myth­i­cal tale that will accom­pa­ny her through the regions of South­ern Turkey all the way to Greece. Once in Europe, she will fol­low the ancient pil­grim­age routes, that of Saint-Jacques de Com­postelle as well as those tak­en by Ital­ian, Pol­ish, Turk­ish, Kur­dish migrants who con­tributed to the Euro­pean recon­struc­tion fol­low­ing the Sec­ond World War.

This high­ly sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic work brings to play the human impulse con­sist­ing of mobi­liz­ing and mov­ing on, leav­ing the seden­tary life behind. It reminds us of the pre­car­i­ous­ness in which women, girls and all chil­dren find them­selves when armed con­flicts, wars, nat­ur­al cat­a­stro­phies force them to emigrate.

It is also a peri­od, our own, in which the­ater and per­for­mance, the arts in gen­er­al, are faced with a major cri­sis linked to the pan­dem­ic. This cre­ation pro­pos­es to revis­it, and renew the debate on the nature and role of the arts, of activism and of resistance.

In build­ing this gigan­tic body of a pup­pet as the incar­na­tion for the pro­to­type of “the lit­tle refugee girl”, and launch­ing her across fields and con­flict­ing fron­tiers – the gre­co-turk or the french-eng­lish bor­ders – and facil­i­tat­ing her inter­ac­tion with the peo­ple met along the way, the cre­ators draw atten­tion to the neces­si­ty of art in our lives, the respon­si­bil­i­ty of artists in a hyper-media con­trolled world where the lit­tle refugee girl is but a shad­ow across our screens.

In their col­lec­tive work Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty in Resis­tance, Judith But­ler, Zeynep Gam­bet­ti and Leti­cia Sab­say raise the ques­tion: “What would change in our polit­i­cal frame­works if we could imag­ine vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as one of the con­di­tions for the very pos­si­bil­i­ty of resis­tance?” The pup­pet’s cre­ators bring before our eyes this own­er­ship of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. A vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty mag­ni­fied by this the­atri­cal object which is Lit­tle Amal and which now walks on the roads fol­lowed since the begin­nings of human­i­ty, an arche­type of the human sto­ry, now known as the “emi­grant”.

The giant doll and her jour­ney evoke the trag­ic jour­ney of anoth­er artist, Pip­pa Bac­ca, who left from Milano to hitchike acros the Mid­dle East after cross­ing Slove­nia, Croa­t­ia, Bosnia, Ser­bia, Bul­gar­ia, Turkey, Van, Syr­i­an Egypt, Jor­dan and Israel. Her jour­ney aimed to oper­ate “a mar­riage between dif­fer­ent peo­ples and nations” by her sym­bol­ic wear­ing of a wed­ding gown all along this exper­i­ment. This gown was to be a wit­ness, gath­er­ing all the mem­o­ries on her­self, con­sum­ing and dirty­ing itself. Upon arrival in Gebze in Turkey in 2008, she had a bad encounter, was raped and mur­dered. The tragedy here ampli­fies the jour­ney of women, war, gen­der-based vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and bor­ders that dehumanize.

Lit­tle Amal’s jour­ney will end fes­tive­ly by a large-scale event dur­ing the Man­ches­ter Inter­na­tion­al Fes­ti­val in Novem­ber 2021.

Nilüfer Ovalıoğlu Gros


You can fol­low Amal’s events and itin­er­ary on this page, sup­port the ini­tia­tive and vis­it… You can also find The Walk, on Face­book, Twit­ter, Insta­gram, Tik­Tok and Youtube.

Nilüfer Ovalıoğlu Gros is a contemporary theater artist from Turkey. She has taught and created in the United States, England and Turkey. Between 2013- 2017 she founded the Crossing Theater Company in Mardin near the Syrian border of Turkey. Together with local participants she created post-dramatic plays based on the testimonies and sounds from the region. Nilüfer has published in scientific journals such as Performing Arts Journal and Journal of Embodied Research. Her research and creations are based on socio-cultural performances charged with the transmission of history through bodies.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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