Puppet of refugee girl to ‘walk’ across Europe along 12-week arts festival trail

Three teams of four puppeteers will accompany Little Amal from Turkey to Manchester to celebrate refugees

A giant puppet of a nine-year-old Syrian refugee girl is to “walk” from Turkey to the UK through villages, towns and cities for one of the most ambitious and complex public artworks ever attempted.

The Walk project was meant to have taken place between April and July but was delayed by the pandemic. Now the 5,000 mile (8,000km) journey of Little Amal, from Gaziantep, near the Turkish-Syrian border, to Manchester, will take place over 12 weeks from 27 July.

The idea is that the girl is desperately searching for her mother. Along the way she will encounter art installations, performances and events, big and small.

Announcing the details on Tuesday, Amir Nizar Zuabi, the artistic director of the Good Chance theatre company, said the project was about joy.

“The Walk is there to celebrate the potential of refugees, children, grownups. It is not a march of misery, it is a march of pride and we hope this corridor of friendship will last much longer than the actual 12-week journey. It will become a network of collaborations in the future.”

The 11ft 5in (3.5 metre) puppet, designed by Handspring, the creator of the War Horse puppets, will be operated by three teams of four puppeteers.

About 250 partner organisation and artists are involved in the project, with more than 80 free events taking place along the route in countries including Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and the UK.

In Athens, for example, the puppet will befriend a minotaur and they will explore the city together. In Naples she is tired, has had enough and will have a tantrum which, Vesuvius-like, releases energy, which will bring hundreds of dancers and musicians to join her. In Cologne, Amal will share apple pie with elderly people and hear their stories of growing up after the second world war.

Puppet with Tower Bridge in background
Little Amal on display in London in 2020. Photograph: Nick Wall/PA

In Paris, a refugee camp installation will be created outside the Institut du Monde Arabe, and Amal will explore the tents – with shadow art and sound installations – for signs of home. When she arrives in Calais, where the Good Chance company was created, “she is walking the streets alone”, said Zuabi. “Nobody is waiting for her.”

Amal will celebrate her tenth birthday in London with a dawn chorus performance at the Royal Opera House and a party at the V&A, to which children will be invited from across London. She will then make her way through Oxford, Sheffield, Coventry and Birmingham before ending her journey in Manchester where, it turns out, her mother has settled.

John McGrath, the artistic director of Manchester international festival, said the city had a proud history of welcoming refugees. “We’re really proud to be celebrating that history and we’re just so honoured to be part of this extraordinary artistic project.”

• The Walk starts on 27 July until 3 November.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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