In its second edition, the Aragouz Festival will focus on Egyptian cultural icons that were inspired by the aragouz. This year, the festival reviews the aragouz in the works of vernacular poetry pillar Fouad Haddad, prominent poet Said Hegab, and the great script writer Abou El-Soud El-Ibiary.
The aragouz is the wooden puppet dressed in red. With its unique voice and sketches, it criticised the political and social status quo in Egypt back in the day. It is said that the name aragouz rhymes with Qaraqoush, who was Egypt’s vicious vizier during the reign of Saladin.
Ever since then, the aragouz became a popular and successful form of street art prominent in moulids and street carnivals. Up to the late nineties, the aragouz was a favourite in children's birthday parties.
The Egyptian aragouz is different than the Turkish Qara Qoz (Black eyes).
Nabil Bahgat, a professor of theatre at Helwan University, is the founder of the festival and the Wamda Troupe for Aragouz and Shadow Puppets, and former head of Beit El-Sehemi.
Bahgat knew the aragouz’s important cultural connotation; and over the past 20 years, through the Wamda troupe, he managed to safeguard, revive, and document all the plays and authentic aragouz dolls, as well as Egyptian folk dolls.
In 2006, Bahgat collaborated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and held the first festival for the aragouz and shadow puppets.
In 2018, Bahgat managed to add the aragouz to the Intangible Cultural Heritage list in the UNESCO.
“Last year was the first aragouz festival and we focused more on reviewing the archive of the aragouz and honouring the aragouz players. This year we are focusing on the aragouz as an inspiration to literature and arts,” Bahgat told Ahram Online.
Many films featured the aragouz, such as Al-Zouga Al-Tanya (“The Second Wife”), and the movie Al-Aragouz. In literature, there is a whole book of poetry titled Aragouz by Fouad Haddad to name but a few, he added.
Bahgat, through his Wamda troupe, played a great role in “pushing back the aragouz from the margin and into the centre,” as he puts it.
Currently, Bahgat is focusing on establishing a school to teach the art of the aragouz and create new content for the old puppet.
Tuesday, 24 November
At 6 PM, the opening of the festival will be held at Beit El-Sennary, Cairo. The opening will honour the screen writer Abou El-Soud El-Ibiary and will include a reading of one of his stories by director and script writer Ahmed El-Ibiary.
At 7 PM, there will be a performance titled The Aragouz and Social Media, directed by Ali-Abu Zeid; followed by another performance named The Aragouz in the City, directed by Nabil Bahgat.
Wednesday, 25 November
At 6 PM, in Beit El-Sennary, Cairo. The evening will start off with honouring prominent poet Said Heggab, and his daughter Reem Hegab will recite one of his poems on the aragouz.
This will be followed by a seminar on the aragouz as a source of inspiration, followed by a performance titled Aragouz Take away, directed by Said Hanafi.
Thursday, 26 November
At 10 AM, there will be a lecture by Professor Hany Abou El-Hassan, head of the theatre department in Alexandria University, on the aragouz’s origin, a workshop of how to make an aragouz, and some aragouz plays.
At 6 PM, the Spanish Cervantes Institute in Cairo will hold a performance titled Lorca and the Aragouz, directed by Nabil Bahgat.
Saturday, 27 November
At 6 PM, in Beit El-Senanry, Cairo. The evening will kick-off by honouring vernacular poet Fouad Haddad, and his son Amin Haddad will recite several poems from Fouad Haddad’s book of poetry titled Al-Aragouz. There will also be a workshop introducing the art of the aragouz.
At 7 PM, there will be a performance titled The Aragouz in Cinema, by Mustapha El-Sabbagh; followed by another one called Aragouz the Wise.
Sunday, 29 November
At 1 PM, in the theatre section of Helwan University, there will be a lecture on how to use the aragouz as a source of inspiration in theatre.
Monday, 30 November
At 11 AM, in the High Institute for Folk Arts, an open seminar will be held on means to safeguard the aragouz, followed by several aragouz plays, a workshop on how to make an aragouz, and an introduction to folk aragouz players.