Light and shadows

The oppositions life/death, inside/outside, light/darkness are the basis of all cosmology. And the play of shadows, as a way of giving life and expression to the animistic beliefs of the first humans, is closely associated with the discovery of fire.

This explains why some of the oldest traditions, surprisingly well conserved, are those of the shadow theatres of China, India and Indonesia. The figures represent spirits, gods and demons. They are used to give voice and form to the invisible presence of the dead or powers. They express originary myths or great epics. In China, the subjects are the Taoist legends with the story of the Monkey King as the main theme.

In medieval Egypt and later in the Ottoman empire, another form of shadow theatre was born, (Islam prohibits three-dimensional figuration). Clearly of Eastern influence, brought back undoubtedly by Arab merchants who travelled to the Orient, in the Mediterranean basin shadow theatre acquired a secular dimension used to criticise, mock and entertain and, in the Ottoman empire, became known by the name of its main character: Karagöz.

Today, shadows are joining the arts of image and animated figures as an increasingly popular speciality, or as a complement which theatre makers incorporate into their shows.