JAMAICA, Queens — She’s been adored by communities in 12 different countries, across which she’s walked some 8,000 miles. Little Amal is a 12-foot-tall puppet depicting a Syrian refugee girl who’s walked with more than a million people from the Syria-Turkey border to the United Kingdom to raise awareness of the plight of child refugees.
On Wednesday, she arrived in New York to walk farther during a series of events in all five boroughs.
The performance art puppet requires a team of at least four people to operate her as she traverses mile after mile, greeting supporters, social media followers, passersby, and dignitaries.
Pope Francis has greeted her in person, and a long list of celebrities, from Gillian Anderson to Anish Kapoor to Chiwetel Ejiofor, has served as publicity ambassadors for her.
She arrived at JFK on Wednesday morning as part of a welcoming performance by the Metropolitan Opera, with music composed by Philip Glass and conducted by the Met’s musical director, Yannick Nézet Séguin.
Nézet Séguin was interviewed with PIX11 News after the performance, which he said was part of an ongoing mission to tell a wider array of musical stories.
“Point[s] of view… from children, women, from people of color,” the music director said. “Now it’s the time to really catch up on those stories, and just make people feel like they can recognize themselves” in the performances, he said.
The centerpiece of the airport performance, Little Amal, is far from little, both in stature and her effect worldwide.
At JFK, Muhammad Talukder, a Brooklyn resident who’d been waiting in the arrivals area when Little Amal arrived, talked about what was most appealing about the performance art.
“It’s moving like a real person, and the music,” he said, was captivating.
He was waiting in JFK Terminal 4 for some family members to arrive from Bangladesh. He said that they’re like Amal — here for the first time. In her case, however, she’s trying to find a home.
She was created last year as performance art to highlight that more than half of all refugees are children. She’s spread her message through hundreds of walks, from which millions of social media posts worldwide exist.
She was featured in a second New York City walking performance along Jamaica Avenue late Wednesday afternoon.
She was accompanied by the Elite Marching Band of Queens, a local drum corps. Then Little Amal walked down the avenue to Rufus King Park, flanked by residents, students from nearby York College and other schools, fans, and followers to draw attention to her plight in a new country.
Yazmany Arboleda, the creative director of “Little Amal Walks NYC,” said that having her begin her New York City journey in Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the country, was both fitting and intentional.
“It’s real,” he said about the places and people the puppet will walk among during her weeks in New York. “Those are the Amals, trying to find their way home, trying to find a place to be, and they can find a life that they can be proud of.”
“Little Amal Walks NYC” is a series of walking performances by the giant puppet that runs through October 2. A complete listing of appearances is here.