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Passports: New Arrivals from the World of Puppetry
Notes by Bradford Clark, Curator
Iranian; string puppet
Gift of Nancy Lohman Staub
Kheimeh Shab Bazi
String Puppetry of Iran
Audiences of the Iranian Kheimeh Shab Bazi string puppet theatre are less concerned with the problems of the Persian ruling class than those of the working-class clown-hero Mobarak. In the grand tradition of trickster stage servants, Mobarak is clever and subversive. He is also in love with the dancer Tayerah; much of the plotline involves his wooing of her against the background of palace intrigue and celebration.
Kheimeh Shab Bazi marionettes traditionally appeared on the streets and other public venues, including celebratory events such as marriages and other rites of passage. Troupes usually consisted of one puppeteer, a musician, and a morshed, the symbolic owner of the booth. The Morshed conversed with Mobarak throughout the semi-improvised plays. Audiences delighted as Mobarak addressed social issues and wittily expressed the viewpoint and resentment of a little man oppressed by the rich and the powerful.
While modern media has taken its toll and few traditional companies remain, a renaissance of both traditional and contemporary Iranian puppetry has taken place in recent years. Three traditional Kheimeh Shab Bazi troupes and twenty younger ones were reported active as of 2010. For over ten years, the Mobarak Puppetry Festival in Tehran has featured many forms of puppetry. Behrouz Gharibpour, who provided us with our figure, has become internationally known for both his traditional Kheimeh Shab Bazi performances and his extraordinarily sophisticated modern puppet opera productions.
The Asia/Pacific UNESCO Centre recognizes Kheimeh Shab Bazi as an Important Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Contemporary Iranian string puppet opera with English subtitles