Karagöz, or shadow puppetry, is a Turkish art form going back hundreds of years. The plays performed this way center around two main characters, Karagöz and Hacivat, who worked together to build a mosque, despite coming from different social classes. They were both charming and witty, and their shenanigans led to their execution, yet they live on in shadow plays. These characters lend themselves to both drama and comedy.
The concept of shadow theater came to Turkey during the 16th century, when the Ottomans conquered the sultanate of Egypt. Ottoman sultan Selim I defeated the Mamluk dynasty and attached Egypt to his empire, capturing Tuman bay II, the vanquished sultan, and hanging him in 1517. To win the victor’s favor, a Mamluk puppeteer portrayed the hanging during a shadow theater performance. Selim the Grim, as he was also known, was so pleased by the grisly show that he brought the puppeteer to his court. Soon after, shadow theater became popular throughout the Ottoman Empire, with performances based on social events, daily life, politics, and romance.
But the practice of Karagöz is waning. Master puppeteer Cengiz Özek is one of the few artists working full time to keep the tradition alive. Learn about his work at Atlas Obscura.
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