Matte Straw

27 March 2014

Art has been at the core of the Syrian uprising since its beginning in 2011, enabling Syrians to break down the wall of silence and fear through music, movies and in this case: string puppets.

Matte Straw is a group made up of nearly 10 artists from many different backgrounds including theatre, cinema, fine arts and fashion design. In August 2011, they came to the belief that art must also become an essential platform for resistance. The puppet group thus started as an artistic voice of the peaceful protesters.

The group's first show was called, “The Premier Shabbih - Diaries of a Little Dictator.” Where the tyrant is represented by a puppet named “Bisho,” (a sarcastic nickname for Bashar al-Assad) in an obvious attempt to ridicule him and expose his narcissistic, drunk with power persona.

The idea of using puppets was due to its “sarcastic nature and its ability to tear down that aura of invincibility surrounding the tyrant, through the simple act of caricature and black comedy.” Additionally, using puppets was an adequate mean to protect the identities of the artists and activists involved, within the escalating security pressure.

The group's name is a tribute to Matte, a popular drink in Syria, that is associated with gatherings of people and chatter. The name also conveys the group’s belief that Syrians need to gather again and to discuss and debate their current predicament; something that was missing under dictatorship.

While the group's works started as a 5-minute long comedy, which is shared with audiences through social networks and television stations. More recently, Matte Straw has expanded its works into theatrical shows on the ground in liberated towns and cities as a way to reach the audiences directly. The last of these shows was in the town of Manbij, near Aleppo, where the group took part in the festival of “Mosaic Syria” which was organized by local activists.”

Bisho, a puppet representation of the tyrant. Source: The group's Facebook page.
Bisho, a puppet representing the tyrant. Source: The group's Facebook page.

The plots display special sensitivity to the ongoing events in the country, but without neglecting the higher ideals of the uprising, which are always embedded in the show. The main topics are chosen through dialogues and informal conversations with people about the ideas of democracy, civil state, transitional justice and others which the basic structures of democratic nations.

The project of Matte Straw aims to use theater as a getaway from the violent reality, as well as highlighting the civil, creative facets in the Syrian uprising, which are often marginalized in favor of the military and geopolitical aspects.

While the group started with private funding, its success in the first season of The Premier Shabbih, brought support from non-governmental organizations. Thus, the second season is currently being funded by Hivos and the Prince Claus Fund. The group also cooperates with many groups that share the same ideals of a just and civil Syria, including: Half an Apple, Syrian Bear, Syrian People Know Their Way and others.


This work is under a Creative Commons license. Attribution: Non commercial - ShareAlike 4.0. International license

Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad