8000km journey of refugee puppet will cap off the MIF21 programme

The final stage of The Walk, an international public art project, will come to Manchester on Wednesday 3 November with Little Amal, a nine-year-old refugee girl in the form of a 3.5-metre puppet (originally planned to launch the festival) finishing her epic 8000km journey in the city.

The purpose of The Walk is to highlight the potential of the refugee, not just their dire circumstances

The journey, which began in late July, which has seen the puppet walk from Gaziantep on the Turkish Syrian border across Europe to Manchester will culminate with a free event at Castlefield Bowl. The event will be produced by Manchester International Festival (MIF), capping off the festival’s 2021 programme.

As part of her journey, Amal will visit Rochdale (31 October) and Wigan (2 November) with other UK stop-offs including Sheffield and Birmingham. The journey to date has taken in cities across countries including Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain Germany and France.

Little Amal In Bari Italy As Part Of The Walk Public Art Project Coming To Manchester By Abdul Saboor
Artists have greeted Little Amal as she travels across Europe Abdul Saboor

A living, breathing, walking work of art

The ambitious public art project has been produced by Stephen Daldry, David Lan, Tracey Seaward and Naomi Webb for Good Chance, a travelling theatre company that aims to connect people from around the world and tell lesser-known stories.

Co-producers of the critically-acclaimed The Jungle, which told the stories of refugees in the Calais refugee camps, Good Chance have worked with the world-famous Handspring Puppet Company, best known for their puppetry work for the stage production of War Horse.

The company’s work in creating the puppet itself has been impressive, requiring a build that’s able to face a dramatically physical task whilst tackling varying terrain across challenging conditions.

Little Amal In Greece As Part Of The Walk Public Art Project Coming To Manchester By Sokratis Baltagiannis
The international public art project will finish up at Castlefield Bowl Sokratis Baltagiannis

Four puppeteers are required to bring Amal to life, with one for each arm, one supporting the back of the puppet and one inside walking on stilts. The four puppeteers also control “the harp” a complex web of strings that animate the puppets facial features.

An important message from refugees to the world

The story of Little Amal, now a 3.5-metre tall puppet of a 9-year-old Syrian refugee, originally began in Good Chance’s production of The Jungle, with Amal representing the thousands of unaccompanied children found in refugee camps across the world. 

The production’s creators felt like there was more to be said on the issue of children separated from their families and the treatment of refugees. The premise of the Little Amal story is that she is walking in search of her mother.

Little Amal Walking Through Chios In Greece As Part Of The Walk Public Art Project Coming To Manchester By Sokratis Baltagiannis
The character Little Amal was created to represent the thousands of unaccompanied refugee children Sokratis Baltagiannis

En route to Manchester Amal will pass through over 65 villages, towns and cities where she has already been welcomed by artists of all kinds and from varying disciplines including dancers, singers, painters, film makers as well as the general public and faith leaders. Her journey represents millions that have already been taken by people fleeing violence and persecution in search of safety.

Little Amal’s message to the world is simple: “Don’t forget about us.”

The Walk And Little Amal Coming To Manchester As Part Of Manchester Evening News By Bevan Ross
Little Amal requires four puppeteers to control her movement Bevan Ross

When The Birds Land in Manchester

The finale of The Walk will see Amal arrive in Manchester for a free, major outdoor event at Castlefield Bowl. As a city with a diverse population of refugees and migrant communities, Manchester was deemed to be a fitting place for the art project to come to an end. The city has the highest concentration of dispersed asylum seekers in the UK outside of London.

The welcome event, titled When The Birds Land, will host live music, puppetry and dance and has been created through collaboration between Manchester International Festival and an advisory group selected by MIF made up of adults who identify as refugees, asylum seekers and allies. 

The creative team for the event includes celebrated puppeteer Sarah Wright and film and theatre director Simon Stone who recently directed British drama film, The Dig.

Little Amal In Turkey As Part Of The Walk A Public Art Project That Is Finishing In Manchester By Andre Liohn
Little Amal's journey began on the Turkey Syria border Andre Liohn

The event will correspond with a creative learning programme led by MIF and running through October which will engage 4000 pupils across the city with education packs, artist sessions and interactive assemblies. 

John McGrath, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Manchester International Festival said: 

“We’re delighted to be a major partner on The Walk. At Manchester International Festival we have a proud history of creating participatory events that bring the city together. As we continue to navigate these uncertain times, the power of arts and projects like these to start important conversations, create connections and safely bring communities together is more important than ever. We hope that everyone who calls Greater Manchester their home will help us welcome Little Amal when she arrives at the end of her long journey.”

The Walk Featuring Little Amal In Bari In Italy As Part Of Journey Across Europe Which Finishes In Manchester
The 8000km journey has taken in cities across Europe

Amir Nizar Zuabi, Artistic Director of The Walk said:

“It is because the attention of the world is elsewhere right now that it is more important than ever to reignite the conversation about the refugee crisis and change the narrative around it. Yes, refugees need food and blankets, but they also need dignity and a voice. The purpose of The Walk is to highlight the potential of the refugee, not just their dire circumstances. Little Amal is 3.5 metres tall because we want her to inspire us to think big and to act bigger.”

When the Birds Land will take place at 7pm, 3 November at Castlefield Bowl. Tickets are free and can be booked from 14 October.

Read next: Manchester Animation Festival 2021 line up announced

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