Ik ontmoet de Zuid Afrikaanse Lauren Alexander en de Syrische Ghalia Elsrakbi enkele maanden geleden. Tijdens deze ontmoeting komen gelijk Syrië en de rellen in dit land ter sprake. Onder de naam Foundland maken Alexander en Elsrakbi werk over de propaganda en strijders in dit land. Een prachtig boek is hiervan het resultaat Simba, the last prince of Ba’ath country. Lees hier het interview, in engels, met Foundland:
Lauren Alexander and Ghalia Elsrakbi completed their master of design together at the Sandberg institute in Amsterdam. After they graduated in 2008 they started collaborating under the name Foundland. Both Lauren and Ghalia studied graphic design, but since their collaborative working development they now produce self initiated research based projects in collaboration with cultural institutions, museums and for educational purposes.
Lauren Alexander (LA) “The thing that connected us is that we are both from countries that have a strong political context We are based in Amsterdam, but our backgrounds are an important part of our identity and undoubtably inform our work”
Ghalia Elsrakbi (GE): “When the revolution in Syria started, I was personally involved. It’s my country and I was following it every day on Facebook. A lot of my friends were involved and some got arrested. I was totally engaged as events took place. As events were taking place I would save things on my computer. Like things that I found on my Facebook page about the revolution. Together we started archiving, collecting and critically analysing how images were being used online. In October 2011 we were asked to create a show from all of the material we had collected since the start of the uprising in Syria.
Heske ten Cate (HC): “Is this archive completely based on your Syrian friends?”
GE: “That’s how it started. We were fascinated by how people in a country such as Syria react to political change. In a country where you cannot go out, walk on the streets and shout what you think. How do people cope with a revolution? It’s new that people have abilities to communicate online.”
LA: “Egypt had at this point last year experienced complete political overhaul. I remember Ghalia saying to me: ‘There will never be a revolution in Syria.’ You see trends developing Facebook and Youtube in terms of political expression. In the beginning every user used aliases and secret names, after a while this changes. Still nobody was sure were protest would lead”
GE: “You can say that the beginning of our research was collecting and observing the behaviour of Syrian internet users and how they deal with the possibility of revolution. In Syria all of a sudden Facebook became a very strong weapon, like a disease; it spreads very fast and nobody could control it. “
HC: “How long did you collect images and examples from the internet before making this publication?”
LA: “We are still collecting. Last October we started to make the publication, because in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe everybody was interested in the topic, but it was still very unclear how to understand it. Nobody knew what was really happening in Syria. That was a reason to make the publication.
GS: “Even today international media is not allowed to enter Syria. The clearest way to follow what is happening is on Facebook. It is really new for Syrians that you are able to follow an alternative to what the regime publishes. Before internet, public space was really difficult, even impossible to interact with. People could not demonstrate on the street, the army pushes simply crushes such events, perhaps you get arrested, or you just vanish. It’s nice to see that young people turn their houses into demonstration platforms. They hold indoor protests and upload them online. We discuss this in our publication.”
LA: “Such protests reach more people than if you go out on the streets. We found out that Facebook is a battlefield for the pro-regime fighters and the opposition side. Because of propaganda all being distributed on Facebook it made it a clear and visible battle. In the first edition of our publication we focussed on example of propaganda that were being produced by the Electronic Army of the Syrian regime.
HC: “So that means that the army in Syria has artists working for their regime creating these very interesting propaganda images?”
GS: “Yes. Interesting thought indeed. These artists and hackers are called the Syrian Electronic Army. They spread news and images online. They advertise themselves as an independent group of hackers, but have been extensively thanked in speeches by Al-Assad.
LA: “It’s funny, because they use the same tools as designers and artists. They search on the Internet, find images and use them for their own purposes with the software available to them.”
HC: “You mean that they use the Lion from the movie, Chronicles of Narnia, for example, but they put Assad in front of it?”
GS: “Exactly. Even pictures that do not contain specific meaning, for example stock images from Getty images. They are used to make mythical or scary propaganda.“
HC: “Is the publication just a report of the information you find on the internet, or does Foundland form an opinion about the propaganda and the revolution with this publication?”
LA: “Yes, I think we show our opinion in the publication. Perhaps not so much as an activistic statement. Our position comes through particularly in the interview we included in the publication. This interview is made from of a collection of different interviews and snippets ranging from interview with Bashar Al-Assad and Barbara Walters, to interviews with Apartheid leaders. In our fictional interview with an “Image maker” told from the point of view of a Syrian regime propaganda creator, we play with the way in which people are completely absorbed in their own myth. We created our own myth incorporated a manner of speech which justifies propaganda.”
GS: “We don’t portrayed these people as pure evil. That’s important. Everybody is to some extent absorbed in his or her own myth. For us these so-called “image –makers” are normal people who might be brainwashed and really believe that they are doing the right thing. Those people can be intelligent and talented. Their ideas are radical, but sometimes you may even agree with what they are saying.
HC: “Imagine I am blind, can you tell me the exact structure and content of the publication. What does it look like?”
GS: “The publication exists of three parts. The first part is our research about social media and its use in Syria. The second part is an image overview related to the manipulation of images used as pro-regime propaganda. There are no rules, no copyright issues, people steal images from the Internet and use them for their own purposes. The interesting thing is that the images are quite hilarious sometimes; even for the Syrian people. The images are categorized in different parts for example: nature images, Western images, Walt Disney images and religious images. The third part is the interview. The interview is printed on pinkish paper, to distinguish from the rest. It gives you background information about the ”Image maker” .It gives an insight into his way of living, thinking, feeling and reveals the scary potential of the images he creates.
HC: “The title of the publication is: Simba, the last prince of the Ba’ath country. Why this name?”
LA: “The title originates from Walt Disney’s Lion King. Simba, the main character of the Lion King is very popular and used frequently in Syrian opposition and regime propaganda images. Assad means ‘lion’ in Arabic. The story of the Lion King has been a big hit in Syria, because it shows a little lion, which looses his father at a young age in battle. The kingdom is left to his son and, although the lion is scared, he fights for it and all the animals in it. Many pro-regime Syrians can relate to this story. For them it’s a metaphor for what’s really going on in the Assad family. The family has been keeping the throne for generations. So, the title refers to the story, but also to the images used as propaganda material, sometimes in an amateuristic way. It is fitting with the hilarity of these images. “
Foundland’s upcoming exhibition, opening on the 11th of October 2012 at CBKU in Utrecht, is part of Impakt Festivals, “No More Westerns”exhibition. They will introduce their new topic of research related to the use of Western cartoons in Syrian propaganda and protest.
More information: www.foundland.org