Towards a Critical Puppetry: Racialisation and Material Performance in the Twenty-First Century
What can puppetry, a process by which objects are humanised, teach us about racialisation, a process by which humans are objectified?
As an embodied practice, puppetry disrupts binary distinctions between object and subject, inanimate and animate, and nonhuman and human. As a result, it offers the possibility to productively destabilise the dominant ontologies and biopolitical constructions which underpin the subjugation of racialised bodies. Conversely, because its aesthetic vocabularies are rooted in exaggeration, and because it uses objects to represent humans, puppetry simultaneously offers unique possibilities for the reproduction and reinscription of racial stereotypes and hegemonic racial ideologies. I suggest that puppetry offers artists a uniquely powerful and dangerous location from which to speak about identity, and that a critical appraisal of these possibilities and dangers is long overdue.
This project brings together these concerns through exploration of contemporary puppetry and material performance and my own professional practice as a puppeteer and theatre-maker. In doing so, I propose a framework for what I have termed Critical Puppetry, wherein the form and mechanics of puppetry are used to critique and resist politically constructed identities and hierarchies of value, facilitating an embodied engagement with broader questions around material ontologies, subjecthood and animacy.