Ilona Németh has been engaged in theatre as a puppeteer, an actress, a costume designer, a scenographer and most importantly as a puppet designer—her entire artistic career is one with theatre. However, the exhibition eventually offers an opportunity for us to see what she has always been: a visual artist.
Her first encounter with the theatre goes back to the late 1960s at the College of Fine Arts, where she, as one of the founders, joined Orfeo, an association of politically active young people. Orfeo was both a political debating society and a self-study group as well as an art group working in a variety of genres, but most of all it was a community of active young people. In the opinion of István Malgot, leader of Orfeo, political action became impossible after 1968 and therefore it had to be transferred to the field of culture. Visual artists began to make puppet theatre because ideas could also be conveyed visually through it. Ilona Németh lost her heart to puppet theatre here, at the Orfeo puppet company. And although she was perhaps the only one who was not actively involved in politics, she was the one who was expelled from the College of Fine Arts in the early 1970s, because she was a member of Orfeo, which was a reason for suspicion for the political power.
In the years to come, she worked as a drawing teacher (with children, whose community is also rewarding) before she joined the creative community of Studió “K” led by Tamás Fodor, who had left Orfeo by then. From this point on, theatre was one with her life, she also performed as an actress but she was mainly responsible for visual design. Among others, it is also thanks to her that puppetry had a crucial role in the emblematic performance of Woyzeck staged by Stúdió “K”.
There was a return to puppetry in the early 1990s, when Tamás Fodor and some members of his creative team worked at the Szigligeti Theatre of Szolnok. Initially, puppetry was included in performances for theatre education purposes (for instance The Tutor, an adaptation by Brecht of Lenz’s work or A rettenetes Anya, avagy a Madarak Élete [The Terrible Mother or the Life of Birds], a play by Andor Szilágyi), and later on the exceptional potentials inherent in puppet theatre gradually came to be discovered (re-discovered). As an outcome, reorganized Stúdió “K”, offering excellent performances for adult audiences, also became an important workshop for children’s theatre in Hungary in the late 1990s. This also brought about complete fulfilment in the artistic career of Ilona Németh. The years to come in the 21st century marked epochal puppetry performances at Stúdió “K” such as Rózsa és Ibolya [Rose and Violet], Sleeping Beauty or Kelekótya Jonathán [Muddle-headed Jonthán]; Cinderella or Varázsfuvola mese [Magic Flute Tale] staged in collaboration with the Hungarian National Theatre. (The performances were directed by Tamás Fodor and the puppets designed by Ilona Németh were animated by actors of Stúdió “K” Theatre.)
From the late 2000s onwards, puppets increasingly tended to appear in performances for adults such as Vakkacsatojások [Blinduck Eggs] directed by Tamás Fodor (written by Tibor Zalán), Józanok Csendje [The Silence of the Sober], an adaptation from Géza Csáth directed by Kinga Mezei or Ernő Szép’s Emberszag [Human Scent] directed by Rémusz Szikszai. Ilona Németh began to turn towards and pay tribute to the great masters of fine art with her work produced in the 2010s. Chagall was evoked by Szamár a torony tetején (Donkey on Top of the Tower written by Tibor Zalán), Picasso by Maya hajója (Maya’s Boat written by Lajos Parti Nagy – both directed by Tamás Fodor) or Hundertwasser by Madárház [The Bird House]. The latter was staged by Ilona Németh herself as she has also began to work as a director recently, and created a number of remarkable performances (A kíváncsi kiselefánt, Kacskaringó/ The Curious Elephant’s Child, Curlicue), which strongly reflect her way of thinking in terms of visual arts.
Ilona Németh has created numerous beautiful puppets, which come to life not only in the hands of puppeteers, but they are also alive when they are simply seated somewhere: they look at you, and if you let them, they will speak to you without words.