Besides the many and colorful mercatini di Natale which have joyfully invaded our beautiful (and noisy) city, there is also a brand-new unusual and exotic exhibition in town. Housed by the Museum of Oriental Arts (MAO) – where else? – from December 3rd, 2016 to February 19th, 2017 and entitled ‘‘FIGURES OF DREAMS. Marionettes, puppets, shadows in the Oriental theater”, the event promises to be the first exhibition in Italy dedicated exclusively to the phenomenon of Oriental puppetry.
In other words (or cutting through the bombastic announcement), the visitor will be able to enjoy the display of no less than 400 figures belonging to the personal collection of Augusto Grilli – a passionate Italian collector and founder of the company that bears his name, which document the fascinating and complex world of the Chinese, Indian, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Javanese, Burmese, Turkish and Greek shadows, puppets and marionettes.
The display at MAO is constructed as an itinerant journey through different cultural areas, leading the visitor to discover all the aspects of Oriental puppetry, from its origins to its present manifestations, from the famous Javanese and Chinese theater of shadows, to the lesser known variations, such as the large Burmese and Indian puppets, from those in glove to those on cue.
For those of you who – just like me when I first found out about the exhibition – cannot wrap their heads around why this is relevant nowadays: in the huge space we usually call Orient, puppetry, in its different national forms, has a colossal cultural value and is (re)presented during several private functions – weddings, public celebrations and religious holidays, often accompanied by music, with each subgenre differentiated by certain technical details. One of the last living ”relics” of an art not quite dead yet.
Nevertheless, what intrigued me the most was the quasi-anonymity of the owner of the collection himself. After I did some research, I discovered that Augusto Grilli’s collection began some 30 years ago and started not as a hobby, but as a pretty unusual job – if entertaining kids while performing art can be called a “job” – and now counts some 20.000 pieces that are yet to be cataloged in their entirety.
Why would someone embark upon such an endeavor? What was his childhood like? Did his mother take him to see puppet shows on Sundays (just like mine)? Was he so fascinated by the potentialities of the make-believe and the shadows that couldn’t go back to the world as we know it? I would very much like to see unravel the story of the collection itself and the man behind it, too, if possible.
Also, part of the collection can be seen in the virtual museum here.
N.B. The wayang kulit, the Javanese shadow puppet theater, has been proclaimed since 2003 UNESCO Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Just google it!
Skip the line here
WHERE: MAO Museum of Oriental Art, Via San Domenico 11, Turin
WHEN: from December 3rd, 2016 to February 19th, 2017
HOW MUCH: full € 10.00; reduced fee € 8.00; the first Tuesday of the month, except holidays, admission to the museum’s permanent collections is free.