Between Light and Screen: Turkish Shadow Puppets

The British Museum is currently showing a small exhibition drawn from its collection of Turkish shadow puppets. They are made out very thin leather which is carefully cut into the necessary shapes before being coloured and jointed together. They are then placed against a screen which has a light source in front of the puppeteer to project a story. This is part of a strong tradition going back over 500 years.

Many of the stories are well known and often told. They contain stock characters who wear specific clothing to make them easily identifiable. These two men, Karagöz and Hacivat, are neighbours who are often fighting but also try to help each other while their different temperaments lead them in opposite directions. They remain popular characters and have even appeared on Turkish postal stamps.


Every character clearly had their own personality which was immediately clear from their clothes, face and hair. As someone new to these stories I still smiled when I saw the pompous character, sympathised with the young female character and recognised the miser. These shadow puppets dated from throughout the twentieth century but they remain current and relevant. Now I just need to watch a real shadow puppetry show so I can see the puppets as they are meant to be used!

The exhibition continues until 28th September so if you’re in the area or visiting the British Museum in the next couple of weeks it would make an amusing detour.