The famous Egyptian puppet Rihana will be on display at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria Library) within the permanent exhibition dedicated to her creator, renowned late puppeteer Nagy Shaker (1932-2018).
The announcement was made by the artist’s widow, Vera Lagator, who added that the same exhibition will include other works by Shaker, who was a jack-of-all-arts (and master of them all), as throughout his life he also explored painting, stage and film directing, costume, set, scenography and lighting design.
"It all began in February 2019, when the American University in Cairo organised an exhibition showcasing Nagy's work," Lagator explains to Ahram Online.
"I invited a few representatives from the Bibliotheca to Cairo's exhibition. Shortly after that I was contacted by the library expressing interest in holding an exhibition [which in fact took place earlier this year] as well as have a few of his works on a permanent display."
A scene from Shehab Al-Din’s Donkey (1962) with Rihana [centre], her father [L] and the donkey [R]. (Photo: courtesy of Vera Lagator and Omneya Yehia)
As Lagator clarifies, the permanent exhibition will include three puppets: Rihana, her father and the donkey, in addition to 34 film and theatre scenography designs created by Shaker.
Though in the field of puppetry, Shaker was primarily known for the multi-award-winning play Al-Leila Al-Kebira (created to the poetry of Salah Jahin and music by Sayed Mekawy), it was Rihana, a puppet from another play that held a special place in Shaker's heart.
Coming from Shehab Al-Din’s Donkey (1962), yet another cooperation between Shaker, Jahin and Mekawy, Rihana is the epitome of poverty and kindness. This Egyptian girl – created during Shaker's stay in Germany – may well have represented the artist’s longing for home. He loved Rihana as if she were his own daughter and was often pained to see her neglected in the theatre’s storage rooms.
In Shaker's obituary in 2018, Lagator revealed that “Nagy would often ask Rihana, ‘How am I getting older and you never change?’ And he always treated her with tenderness."
Vera Lagator with Rihana and her father as she delivers the puppets to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. (Photo: courtesy of Vera Lagator)
Today, two years after the artist's death, finally Rihana will find a home that will give justice to her beauty, taking with her two other characters from the play.
"The puppets were originally stored at Cairo's puppet theatre. Prior to taking them to Alexandria, we made exact copies of them so the theatre could still have them. While the donkey and the father seem to be exactly the same, Rihana's real spirit is seen only in the original puppet," Lagator told Ahram Online.
Lagator has been very active in keeping Shaker's memory alive since his passing on 18 August 2018. She is often 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.
She shares that a few steps have been taken by some institutions to continue Shaker's legacy and present his works to the young generations.
"The Faculty of Fine Arts, 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 interest in creating an archive of his papers and some works," she explains.
Drawings for Shafika and Metwally costumes (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
Lagator also revealed that a large book created by Shaker and Yehia focusing on the artist's memories and artwork might finally see the light of day with the support of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
"It is a very big project, filled with dozens of colour photos. I am not sure when it will be published but we are finally heading toward this direction. Nagy really deserves for the book to finally be out there."
While speaking about her late husband, Lagator points to the fact that the primarily interest of the audiences is usually directed towards Shaker's work in puppetry for children.
"His creative wealth was much bigger though. He painted, created films, worked in scenography and he loved light. He believed that light could be the whole scenography," she says, explaining that she hopes to also bring this side of his magic to viewers.
The last exhibition dedicated to light that Shaker held during his life was Light Talk at the Faculty of Fine Arts in 2015. In Light Talk, the artist's dreams and cumulative creative practice breathed life into each work. It was there that he integrated his passion for light with knowledge of interior design, architecture, painting and colours.
The official opening of Shaker's permanent exhibition at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina will be revealed within the coming week.
Wood from Fairytales, painting form Light Talk exhibition (Photo: Ati Metwaly)
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