The Syria Trust for Development celebrates the inscription of Syrian Shadow Play to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
The UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage meeting today in Port Louis, Mauritius, inscribed the element of Shadow Play from the Syrian Arab Republic on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. The decision was formerly received by Dr. Ali Mobayyed, Deputy Minister of Culture, and Mr. Fares Kallas, the Secretary General of the Syria Trust for Development, who attended the meeting in Mauritius. Shadow Play is the first intangible cultural heritage element nominated by Syria to be inscribed on UNESCO’s list. The nomination was prepared by the Syria Trust for Development as part of a four-year safeguarding plan for the element, in partnership with government bodies, artists, civil society organisations and practitioners, with the exceptional support of the Ministry of Culture and Syria’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO. After its evaluation by an expert committee in UNESCO, a decision was taken to inscribe the element on UNESCO’s list as international recognition of Syria’s rich cultural heritage. “In light of what our country has experienced in recent years, today’s inscription is a grand celebration for our nation. It is a recognition of Syria’s profound cultural heritage, and to our commitment to safeguarding and enriching it for future generations”, said Mr. Fares Kallas. Shadow Play is a significant example of the creativity of the Syrian people. Its roots are ingrained into the memory of Syrian communities, and carry deep social and cultural meaning. Shadow Play practitioners hand-craft their puppets out of natural materials including leather, wood and natural dyes. The shadows of these puppets are projected onto a white translucent screen, giving the element its name. The Mukhayel controls the puppets from behind the screen, imitating the different characters and telling much-loved traditional stories, where the content is usually adapted to prevailing social issues and current affairs- creating a connection between the past and present. Due to the negative consequences of the war, Shadow Play has declined in practice and is now in need of urgent safeguarding to guarantee its transmission to future generations. Shadi Hallak, the last active puppeteer in Syria works with the Syria Trust for Development, and various other government and non-government institutions, to promote the art he inherited from his father. “Shadow Play to me is my life, it’s what keeps me connected to my father and to his life’s work. Without it I am nothing.” says Shadi. “Syria’s living heritage is the story of our belonging to our country and our identity, and we should continue to safeguard our cultural treasures and showcase them to the world just as we have done with Shadow Play“, says Mr. Fares Kallas. The Syria Trust for Development is currently leading the project for inventorying Syrian Intangible cultural heritage. The Trust has been accredited to provide advisory services to UNESCO since 2012, was a member of UNESCO’s Evaluation Body in the 2015-2016 cycle, and currently sits on the Steering Committee for UNESCO’s ICH NGO Forum.