I am a South African puppetry and animism practitioner, specializing in animist ritual performance in transformative social, spiritual and cultural practices today. I work specifically with women’s spiritual and sexual empowerment through puppetry and animism. I also work closely with large communities in both South Africa and abroad to use these feminine creative practices in radical peace building, healing and empathy processes. As an artist, traditional healer and ceremonialist, priestess of the Great Goddess, a mother and an academic, my devotion is integrated into every aspect of my creative work and life, exploring pathways to spiritual and sexual expansion and creative freedom.
Dr Aja Marneweck is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Laboratory of Kinetic Objects, in the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape. She is a puppeteer, ritualist, traditional healer-in -training in the Ndau and Thokoza Sangoma traditions as well as an academic specializing in Practice as Research in Puppetry Performance. Aja is the creative director of the Net vir Pret Annual giant puppet parade, which takes place annually in Barrydale in the Klein Karoo. This large-scale interdisciplinary public puppet arts intervention (created in 2009 in partnership with the UWC Centre for Humanities Research Flagship and the Handspring Puppet Trust), is a unique collaboration that allows rural and urban publics and artists to use puppetry to engage complex issues of nature conservation, history and heritage, land, identity, power, access and ecology.
In 2012 Aja was awarded the first PhD in practice as research in puppetry in South Africa at the University of Cape Town. Her research and performance practices explore the intersections of animism, puppetry, traditional healing, sexual and spiritual emergence(y), post colonial feminism, medical anthropology and the lenses they offer radical contemporary performance practices within large and small scale communities. Her most recent publication is ‘Sexual and Spiritual R-Evolution through Animism: The Feminine Semiotics of Puppetry’ in the International Journal of Resistance Studies. Aja was also awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in the Medical Anthropology department at the University of Cape Town in 2016.
Aja established the international women’s puppetry company, The Paper Body Collective in 2004 in Cape Town. After obtaining an honours degree in video dance and theatre directing in Johannesburg in the ‘90s, Marneweck began her puppetry career with Gary Friedman in Cape Town in 2001, collaborating on the site- specific puppetry production, Looking For a Monster. In 2005 and 2006 she received bursaries to attend puppetry training at the International School of Marionette art in Charleville-Meziere France, with international artists Green Ginger and Au Cu Du Loop. She was a founding co-director of the ground breaking Out the Box International Festival of Puppetry and Visual Performance from 2005-2009, and as an artist has created several multimedia puppetry productions, performing on prestigious festivals such as the Festival Mondial des Theatres de la Marionettes in Charleville and the Puppet Theatre Festival at the Stadt Museum in Munich. She has also created the original puppetry for award winning international Theatre Companies including Opera Company Isango Ensemble (‘The Mysteries’, which played at the Garrick Theatre on on the West End in 2009, ‘Aesop’s Fables’, 2010, ‘Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’, 2010, and ‘Noyes Fludd’, 2012). Since 2012 she has worked at the interface of interdisciplinary and public arts performances for peace building, collaborating with director Teya Sepinuck and the Theatre of Witness at the Playhouse in Derry, Northern Ireland (productions ‘Release’ in 2012, and ‘Sanctuary’ in 2013). She has also co-convened the international puppetry research network and symposium ‘Objects with Objectives’ with David Grant from Queen’s University in Belfast and Dr Sara Matchett from UCT in 2017/2018.