As the lights went off, the small white screen on stage came alive with floating forms of animals in their habitat, humans and scenes from daily life. Mumbai-based hand shadowgraphy artist Rekha Vyas held the audience in the city in a spell. For the next two hours, they were treated to different forms of puppetry and hand shadowgraphy at a show recently organised by GEMS (Gateway to Empower Mind with Solutions).
Practised only by a handful of individuals across the world, hand shadowgraphy is a rare art form where shadow images are created with bare hands. “It looks simple, but it requires years of practice for one to gain mastery over this powerful art form. There are a million things that can be done by hand shadowgraphy,” says Rekha, who is the founder of PepUp, an organisation dedicated to shadowgraphy and puppetry.
“All you need is two hands, a projection screen and a source of light to create magical silhouettes from hand shadowgraphy. It is like a play in which you create the characters through hand movements,” says Rekha, who has been trained under the noted hand shadowgraphy artist Amar Sen from Kolkata. She has performed at various international and national events like the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai, Sangeet Natak Akademi in the Ministry of Culture Government of India and in television channels like Disney and Nickelodeon, among others.
According to her, the art form requires a distinct identity, the lack of which is pushing it towards extinction. “Currently hand shadowgraphy is under the banner of puppetry. But both are completely different. We are trying to push this as a unique art form before the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. If this happens, there will be immense scope for this art form and a formal training institute can be set up,” she says.
During her show in Visakhapatnam, Rekha also introduced the audience to shadow puppetry, string puppets and muppets. A workshop was held to engage the children in the making of puppets. Later, Rekha showed them ways to give the puppets character.
According to Rekha, puppets are excellent learning tools in a classroom environment. “They help children develop socially and emotionally. If a puppet is say, a member of the classroom, they view it as a friend, helping them feel more comfortable in social interactions,” says Rekha. She has been engaging with educational institutions across cities and training teachers in puppetry. “There are different ways to use puppets in your classroom. You can use them to give celebrity guest lectures for motivating children; or a role play set up with puppets and encouraging children to come up with solutions. Puppets can also be used in teaching phonics,” says Rekha.
According to K K Amala Reddy of GEMS, introducing children to different art forms at an early age improves creativity and helps enhance fine motor skills and also problem solving capabilities. “Our objective is to bring different forms of art and performing arts shows to children in Visakhapatnam,” she says.