Storytelling Through Shadows

Shadow art and magic, though a dying art form, serves as a means of entertainment for people of all age groups in the city.

Art and magic, have been looked at as good means of entertainment over the years, and have always had their following.

While magicians, illusionists and escape artists hog the limelight due to the daredevilry associated with their acts, there is an older, and currently forgotten art that seems to be making a revival of sorts.

Possibly one of the oldest forms of entertainment, shadowgraphy, the art of performing a story or show using images made by hand shadows, is often used as a filler, to make use of the time between bigger magic acts.

This modern art of hand shadows, which was popularized by French magician and entertainer Felicien Trewey in the 19th century by making silhouettes of famous personalities, has it’s following among people of different age groups, all over the world.

Though there are just a handful of eminent shadowgraphers in the country, the uniqueness and the effort that goes into making the more basic figures of cats, birds or lions, and more complicated figures like the national emblem or silhouettes has won them their fair share of fans.

“Shadowgraphy happened to me more by accident, while I started experimenting with new modes of storytelling through magic to keep audiences entertained. Though I started off as a magician, using illusion and escape acts to great effect, I started focusing more on using hand shadows in my acts the last two years,” says Prahlad Acharya, a popular magician, illusionist, escapologist and stunt performer, who is also an expert in shadow play.

“While I started off doing shadows of animals for school children, I have now increased my repertoire to 300 hand shadows through constant practice,” he adds.

Having performed shadow plays to packed gathering all over the world in the last couple of years, Prahlad brings out many social awareness themes and folk themes through his shadow acts.

While it is admittedly tough for magicians and shadow artists to survive without adequate sponsorship, they are still invited to perform in schools, colleges, private parties and corporate shows.

In the era where technology has begun to play a big part in magic shows, the manual art form of shadowgraphy comes across as unique, and more natural.

“It is easier to be a magician, as you will invariably have a troupe, a number of props and technology aiding you significantly. However, shadowgraphy turns out to be far more challenging, as it requires several hours of practice to perfect hand shadows. Since shadow art is also performed in a limited time frame of six to seven minutes, it is that much more difficult to keep the audience engaged, as the audience expects perfection,” says Jayam, a local shadowgrapher.

While it is not hyped as much as the bigger acts of magic by the media, shadowgraphy and its themes have found favour from people of different age groups.

“There was a shadow play on national integration which literally took the essentially middle-aged audience back to their youth. I had parents coming in and urging us to bring shadowgraphy to the fore, and school children are yearning to pick it up, as it offers them a new, more interactive form of learning,” says Lakshmiganth K, Marketing and Communications Head of an eminent lending library in the city, which encourages innovative forms of learning.

With offers to perform in festivals all over the world more encouragement from corporate sponsors, looks like these talented artists could well leave us in the shadows, yearning for more.

 

From the pages of The Times of India

Storytelling Through Shadows

Vaibhav Shastry | August 27, 2012