Tesfaye Puppetry 

I am intrigued by folk media arts of different cultures, specifically the traditional puppetry arts of Southeast Asia. Puppetry exists throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India, each different yet with cross-cultural exchanges. I am inspired by wooden, string and shadow puppetry arts, its place in being a bridge between arts, spirituality and culture.

My research is rooted in folk media, ancient puppetry practices and cultural storytelling through diasporas. I use the body in the form of larger than life scale puppets, as a vessel to personify ancestral and celestial ideas, transforming ancient symbolism into a contemporary languages. I work primarily 2d based, working with paper, watercolours, and inks. I give interactive aspects to my installations, turning traditional art gallery space into otherworldly experience for viewers to experience art beyond the physical.  In addition to installation work in exhibition spaces, I use these puppets in the animation studio, creating personal narratives and cultural mythologies through stop motion cut out animation. 

These larger than life size pieces range from 6 feet to 11 feet tall, made on paper with watercolor, acrylic, and ink. 

View more here

“Pangea Is My Favourite Country: A Body of Humanity” PUppet

I have spent the past year traveling through Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and India. I’ve become deeply inspired by the cross-cultural exchanges throughout the region- How patterns travel and evolve on traditional clothing, shared sounds reminiscent in languages, connections to the spirit realm, and common styles in art. I have visited Buddhist Temples, Hindu temples, Churches, and Mosques, each within walking distance of each other, and living in international equality.

While traveling, I’ve studied the ancient puppetry practices and cultural storytelling of these countries. When living in Chiang Mai, Thailand I was actively painting, creating my own puppets which bridged the techniques, symbols, patterns, stories, inspirations from the countries occupied and my own African heritage. This puppet emcompasses multiple heads and arms of women from different countries, and their patterns, script and symbols traveling throughout the figure. Painted and collaged imagery on cut out watercolour paper, each body part is jointed at the limbs in such a way where the parts are mobile and viewers can interact with, to get close enough to read the poetry dancing throughout the puppet.

Kali Puppet

Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 10 ft x 5 ft

Dark Matter Puppet

Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 11 ft x 5 ft

Chakra Puppet

Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 10 ft x 5 ft

Sacral Puppet

Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 10 ft x 5 ft


Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 6 ft x 5 ft

moon Puppet

Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 11 ft x 4 ft

Sun Puppet

Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 11 ft x 4 ft

Akuaba Puppet

Akua’ba ‘s are wooden fertility dolls from Ghana and the Ashanti people. They are traditionally used to give women spiritual assistance in bearing a child. Once successful, they are returned to the Shrine as a thank you to the spirit realm, or kept in home as memorial for lost children. The dolls are washed, wrapped and fed, and carried on the women’s backs. In Ghanaian legend, there was a woman named Akua who had trouble conceiving. She visited a priest, who then carved her a wooden doll. She took the doll home and bathed & carried on her back, as if it was a real baby. The village laughed at her, and called the doll Akua’ba - “Akua’s child”- ‘ba’ meaning child. However, soon after she became pregnant with a healthy baby, and the practice was adopted since.I keep mine on my altar in memory of my one in the spirit realm, as a sign of respect and honour to them, blessings and health for the future, until I am chosen again to become a mother.

Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 7 ft x 5 ft

Light Matter Puppet

Watercolour, Ink, Acrylic. 11 ft x 4 ft

Mali Pah Puppets

Chiang Mai, Thailand, Woke Folks Festival 2018

various Exhibitions

Chicago, New York, London, Milwaukee