Bibliotheca Alexandrina launches permanent display of renowned Egyptian puppeteer Nagy Shaker's work

Ati Metwaly , Saturday 29 May 2021

Among the display's highlights is the famous puppet and Shaker's beloved "daughter" Rihana from 'Shehab Al-Din’s Donkey'

Nagy Shaker
(Photo: Vera Lagator)

Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria Library) launched a permanent exhibition dedicated to the late renowned Egyptian puppeteer Nagy Shaker (1932-2018), last Wednesday. The display was organised by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina's arts department in cooperation with Vera Lagator, Shaker's widow.

The display showcases over 30 pieces of work focusing on Shaker's art of puppetry, costume and set designs, all covering two walls of a hall alongside a vitrine protecting three of his famous puppets, the characters from 'Shehab Al-Din’s Donkey' (1962).

The exhibition showcases Shaker's work on designs for 'Shafika and Metwali', a 1979 film directed by Ali Badrakhan based on a story by Salah Jahin, starring Souad Hosni and Ahmed Zaki.

Posters are also put on display; the visitors can view the original film posters designed by Shaker, including one for Youssef Chahine's 'Alexandria...Why?'

Among the display's highlights is the famous puppet Rihana whom Shaker loved as if she were his own daughter. Occupying a glass vitrine together with her father and a donkey, the puppets come from Shehab Al-Din’s Donkey (1962), a puppet operetta co-directed by Shaker, and his second cooperation with the iconic duo; poet Salah Jaheen and musician Sayed Mekkawy.

Although Rihana was closest to Shaker's heart, and is considered to be an Egyptian puppetry masterpiece, it was another puppet show that engraved its place in the Egyptian collective memory: the multi-award-winning play 'Al-Leila Al-Kebira' on which Shaker also cooperated with Jahin and Mekawy.

Nagy Shaker
(Photo: Vera Lagator)

The epitome of poverty and kindness, Rihana was created during Shaker's stay in Germany and may well have represented the artist’s longing for home.

Shaker often expressed his pain for Rihana for being neglected at the Cairo puppet theatre’s storage rooms. While giving the three characters a permanent home at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Cairo theatre was offered the exact copy of the puppets. Vera Lagator said months before the launch of the exhibition, "while the donkey and the father seem to be exactly the same, Rihana's real spirit is seen only in the original puppet."

It is worth noting that while the primarily interest of the audiences is usually directed towards Shaker's work in puppetry for children, his creative wealth was much bigger.

The profound creative reservoir of the jack-of-all-arts (and master of them all) also included painting, scenography designs, experimental films and an artistic approach to light.

Many can still remember Shaker's last exhibition dedicated to light, titled 'Light Talk', held at the Faculty of Fine Arts in 2015. In 'Light Talk', the artist integrated his passion for light with knowledge of interior design; architecture; painting and colours.

Lagator has been very active in keeping Shaker's memory alive since his passing on 18th August 2018. In this journey, she has been supported by Shaker’s lifelong friend Omneya Yehia, once his student at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Cairo, and now a professor at the same institution.

Nagy Shaker
(Photo: Vera Lagator)

"Omneya Yehia is the person who is makin an enormous effort to keep Nagy's legacy [alive]. In the name of Shaker and myself, I express our gratitude," Lagator wrote on her Facebook page following the launch.

Prior to Alexandria acquiring Shaker's work, Lagator pointed to a few steps taken by some institutions to continue Shaker's legacy and present his work to the younger generations.

"The Faculty of Fine Arts at Helwan University (located in Cairo's Zamalek), has named one of its largest ateliers after Nagy. At the same time, the American University in Cairo expressed their interest in creating an archive of his papers and some work too," she explained in last year's interview for Ahram Online.

In fact it was in one of Shaker's exhibitions, at the AUC, that attracted attention of Bibliotheca Alexandrina's management which then led them to contacting Lagator regarding the work.

The organisation of the permanent display is accompanied by the Bibliotheca's efforts to publish Shaker's book. The large volume was created by Shaker and Yehia. It focuses on the artist's memories and artwork.

"It is a very big project, filled with dozens of coloured  photos. I am not sure when it will be published but we are finally heading towards this direction," Lagator added.

Nagy Shaker
(Photo: Vera Lagator)

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