A Performance Museum

Museum project

Museum: International Puppetry museum Antonio Pasqualino

International Puppetry museum Antonio Pasqualino

Intangible cultural heritage is the core of the mission of the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum of Palermo and the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions, which is the non-profit organization (established in 1965) that founded the Museum in 1975. As stated in the Association's Statute, since the very beginning the Museum's focus has been the preservation of Sicilian folk traditions, the promotion and encouragement of the study of the related issues. In particular, the Museum foundation followed a deep crisis of the local traditional practices, the Opera dei pupi that is Sicilian puppet theatre provoked by a deep social and economic transformation. In order to safeguard this important form of local cultural heritage, and help the exchange and relation between old masters and new audiences, the Museum project combines museographical activities and theatrical initiatives 'also through the creation of an active theatrical company' in collaboration with all Sicilian puppeteers; it promotes and organizes a high number and variety of events 'educational activities, workshops, conferences/seminars, festivals', manages a the Gisueppe Leggio Library and a multimedia archive; dialogues with prestigious organizations and works as a mediator with local, inter/national entities. Its promotional strategy is based on a transcultural and multidisciplinary approach that helps the exchange between Sicilian puppeteers, puppeteers from other countries and contemporary artists.

Clear evidence of our engagement in the preservation and promotion of folk traditions, with particular reference to the Opera dei pupi, can be found in the decision to write the UNESCO application of Sicilian Opera dei pupi, its promotion and support. In May 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the Opera dei pupi a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity'.

The organization of the annual international Festival di Morgana and all the other initiatives allow the expansion of the collection that today includes ab. 5,000 items: marionettes, marottes, hand puppets, shadow puppets, theatrical machines and playbills from all around the world. Among these, it houses the largest and most complete collection of pupi from Palermo, Catania and Naples as well as objects used in the other puppet traditions which are proclaimed UNESCO's Materpieces of Humanity: not only the opera dei pupi, but also the Japanese Ningyo Johruri Bunraku, the Indonesian Wayang Kulit, the Cambodian Sbek Thom and the Nigerian Gelede. The collection also includes important contemporary works of art, namely those created for shows produced by the Museum: a set design and puppets drew by Renato Guttuso for the show Foresta-radice-labirinto (Forest, Root, Labyrinth 1987) written by Italo Calvino and directed by Roberto Andò (1987); the puppets and theatrical machines made by the Polish artist and director Tadeusz Kantor for the show Macchina dell'amore e della morte (The Machine of Love and Death 1987); the puppets made by Enrico Baj for the show Le bleu-blanc-rouge et le Noir performed by the Arc-en-terre of Massimo Schuster. In recent years, the Museum has also acquired the puppets Enrico Baj created for two other shows by Massimo Schuster: Mahabharata and Roncevaux.

By virtue of its recognized competence in the field of research and study of the intangible heritage, the Association was accredited as a non-governmental organization to act in an advisory capacity to the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee of Intangible Cultural Heritage (registration number NGO-90316). In addition, in 2015, the Association was enrolled in the Anagrafe Nazionale delle Ricerche of the Ministero delI'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca (ID code 61993JYI). Finally, in 2017, the Museum has received the ICOM Italy award as 'Museum of the Year 2017' because of its engagement in the attraction of new audiences.

A Performance Museum

Description of the project / practice / program

The project we want to submit is the Museum's project, as a whole. A project that, as previously said, has been officially and internationally awarded.

The Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum was founded by the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions in 1975. Since its foundation, the Museum has constantly pertained to contemporary museography and not being a temple of knowledge for a few people, but a place for spreading culture and knowledge. The combination of traditional museum activities and the organization of live theatrical shows is at the basis of one of the most successful examples of museum research on theatre.The history of the Museum is linked to its founder Antonio Pasqualino, disappeared in 1995, who was a surgeon, and and anthropologist expert of the history and culture of his motherland, Sicily. Antonio Pasqualino dedicated his researches to a form of theatre that, in the second half of the 20th century, seemed to be inexorably disappearing: Sicilian puppet theatre - the Opera dei pupi - which narrated the history of the Crusades and French paladins who had already been the main focus of some of the masters of Italian Literature such as Ludovico Ariosto, Matteo Maria Boiardo and Torquato Tasso.

In 1965, Antonio Pasqualino, together with other highbrows, established the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions and, with his wife Janne Vibaek, undertook the collection of diverse pieces of evidence protecting them from destruction and oblivion: scripts, puppets, theatres and pieces of furniture.

In 1975 the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions founded the International Puppet Museum where the items collected over the years found their home: objects from lots of European countries and the Far East such as France, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and so on.

Ever since, loads of activities have taken place 'such as the annual Festival di Morgana featuring artists from all over the world' as well as cultural exchanges with similar associations in the five continents. When in 1995 Antonio Pasqualino passed away, the Museum was named after him.

The International Puppet Museum is engaged in the safeguarding of a form of theatre which is a prized part of our history, while supporting a critical re-thinking of that history so as to push away that local particularism and sense of insularity that the Sicilian writer Sciascia considered as an obscure evil. In fact, through the legend of Charlemagne and his paladins which spread all over Europe the Museum proves evidence of an ideal of European union and includes the Opera dei pupi in the wider field of international puppet theatre. Moreover, the comparison of similarities and differences with other traditions allows to find a solidarity relation among all human cultures.

The interdependence of the various activities of the Museum is evident. In 1985, the Rassegna dell'Opera dei pupi became Festival di Morgana acquiring international relevance. The exchange with other traditional companies 'both Italian and foreign' has given new dignity and pride to Sicilian puppeteers and has revitalized their activity. In addition, the annual Festival has given the opportunity to acquire new objects and expand the research focus to non-European traditions and theatrical practices. The collaboration with the major national and international cultural institutions is proved by the organization of a number of exhibitions and theatrical projects on the Sicilian tradition, held abroad. In order to support all the opera dei pupi companies, the Museum has created the opera dei pupi network and an online portal (www.operadeipupi.it) where we upload the shows schedules of all the companies that wish to use this tool for a wider promotion.

The Museum's theatrical project also consists in the production of innovative shows. Since the beginning, it has offered new inputs to contemporary writers and musicians (e.g. Italo Calvino, Francesco Pennisi, Luciano Berio) for the producion of new plays, and painters and visual artists (e.g. Renato Guttuso, Tadeusz Kantor, Enrico Baj) have been commissioned new set designs and puppets which are now an interesting part of the permanent collection of the Museum.

In addition, the Museum has the Library Giuseppe Leggio which houses about seven thousand books concerning puppetry and folk traditions. Among these, a prized collection of handwritten scripts dating back to the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries and the chivalric installment publications published between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Besides, the Museum has a multimedia library which houses photographs, videos and sound records focusing on puppet traditions from different countries.

Education is another important field where the Association operates. Schoolchildren can attend guided tours enriched with explanatory videos, while school stakeholders can attend theoretical and practical training courses on the techniques of puppet theatre. Opera dei pupi shows can be performed on request.

How were practitioners of intangible cultural heritage involved?

In mid-twentieth century Sicilian traditional puppet theatre, the Opera dei pupi, entered a deep crisis mainly due to an economic and social transformation. The stories and characters of the Opera dei pupi 'mainly stemmed from the French old Chanson de geste' conveyed an ideology, system of values and behaviour model that did not mirror anymore those of the traditional audience, that would include men from the lowest social classes. Moreover, new models were spread by the new means of mass communication. By consequence, puppeteers started to close their theatres as to find new and more remunerative activities. Antonio Pasqualino, a surgeon from Palermo who loved this traditional practice, thus promoted the establishment of an Association for the safeguarding of folk traditions: not only did the Association intensify the researches focused on this topic 'with sound/video interviews to master puppeteers and traditional audience, video recordings of the shows as to document the state of this tradition in those years', but it also organized activities (conferences, seminars, exhibitions) clearly aimed at making pupari aware of the importance of their heritage. The first location of the Museum (1975) within a noble palace decontextualized this folk tradition to attract a new audience, namely the middle-classes but also tourists, and continue the chain of the oral transmission of the pupari's oral heritage. Moreover, in the year of the Museum opening, the first festival of the opera dei pupi (that would become the Festival di Morgana) was organized: all the puppeteers families were invited to perform in a competition to obtain an award and were hired as to support them also economically. In addition, the Museum immediately provided a number of occasions to promote their activity. Over the years, the international debate on cultures, identities, heritage led the Museum to adopt a transcultural and multidisciplinary approach thus promoting exchanges between practitioners and high-brows, puppeteers from other countries and contemporary artists; with students and school pupils, children and tourists. Practitioners are thus involved in theatrical activities at the Museum, but also in the whole region and abroad; they hold workshops addressed to different targets and carry out education activities e.g. focused on both the construction techniques and the performing canons for people visiting the Museum; they are involved in the maintenance and study of the Museum's collection; they take part in the production of new shows and in projects for the technological innovation e.g. with augmented reality, 360 degree videos, multimedia performances. Among these, the project #Carinda A.R. that helps a more expanded fruition and dissemination of Sicilian puppetry and the cultural heritage related to it, the involvement of the community and a deep understanding of the local cultural heritage. This project consists in the creation of 3D models of the marionettes, which can be virtually animated on tablets and smartphones, in conformity with the traditional kinetic code of the master puppeteers through an in-depth virtual journey and an open access to the cultural heritage and to data, information and documents produced about it. The first puppet involved has been Carinda, which is the most ancient one of the Museum dating back to 1828. Guests can freely access the Museum's application named I paladini di Francia which allows them to visualise a virtual Carinda on their support: after downloading the app, by pointing their smartphone or tablet at a specific marker, visitors can visualise the virtual puppet, as well as a set of detailed information about it, which pop up automatically. To realize this project, puppeteers have been actively involved: in fact the virtual reproduction of the puppets' movements has been designed together with puppeteers, involved in performing sessions during which they were photographed and video recorded.

CV of the author

Rosario Perricone, is the Director of the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum. A Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Museology and Museographical Displaying at Palermo's Fine Art Academy; an expert of the history of folk traditions, theatre and visual anthropology; President of the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions and the Association Festival of Migrant Literatures; Director of the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum and the Ignazio Buttitta Foundation. He adopts a scientific, multidisciplinary and trans-cultural approach for the study and promotion of traditional theatrical practices, combined with a sound experience in the organization of inter/national events, deep knowledge of the cultural contexts of the different performing arts. He has coordinated and managed projects aimed at a wide fruition of cultural heritage and puppet theatre, helping the exchange between practitioners and audiences, traditional masters and contemporary artists also through the use of new technologies.



14 February 2018 from 16:08 to 16:08



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