Activism is a community effort. It’s sustained, creative, collaborative, diverse, and draws on the voices and talents of everyone involved. While protests continue in support of Black lives, a cadre of local activists have come together to bring even more folks to the table, and to share unique ways we can make our voices heard. Every other weekend in August, this group will host a community puppet-build and writing workshop, leading up to a presentation on Aug. 28. The goal is to create an 11-foot-tall puppet of Gaia, Mother Earth, depicted as a Black woman, covered in stories and poems submitted by the community.
“Gaia is the divine mother, weeping for her lost children,” explains co-organizer Sophie Thunberg. “Her mourning robe bears the names of those lost to police violence; artwork and poetry, carrying the words and pictures of those grieving this loss and calling for protection and change.”
Thunberg says giant puppets have been used in protests since the ’60s and ’70s, made famous by the “Bread and Puppet” troupe of New York City. This build, she says, was largely inspired by Minneapolis-based In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.
While the original idea was simply to include puppets in the Black Lives Matter marches, to add some art and theatricality, Thunberg says, “The project continued to grow with many ‘What if’s…’ What if we added pieces of paper and fabric and patchwork quilt the pieces of art and poetry together into Gaia’s robes? What if Poetry719 could host some poetry-writing workshops? What if we were able to commission someone to get local Black poets’ writing into ASL [American Sign Language] and use that for the procession parade choreography? And people kept saying, ‘Yes.’”
While Gaia’s head was originally created by Nanette Phillips in 2016 for the local Womxn’s March, the rest of the puppet has been a collaboration of multiple locals and organizations, and Thunberg and the crew hope to bring even more people on board. Old Town Bike Shop, Who Gives a Scrap and the Millibo Art Theatre have donated materials, while Concrete Couch has provided a space to build the puppet, as well as building supplies.
Thunberg says there’s value in people coming together to “express the emotions, energy, art and words of the Black Lives Matter movement,” but stresses that for now they’re trying to limit groups to 20 people due to COVID-19 concerns (10 in front of the building, 10 in back). There are many ways to participate remotely, though. Folks can submit poetry or stories of discrimination online, to be written on Gaia; make signs and drum cans for the procession; or even create and drop off puppet heads depicting politicians or those who have been killed as a result of white supremacy. “Everything in large scale is welcome as a contribution to the future planned procession,” Thunberg says.