BOOK OF THE MONTH (9): on a Ferris wheel in Rwanda or Turkmenistan (‘Dream City’, by Anoek Steketee & Eefje Blankevoort)

Some of them look way too strange to be true. But nevertheless: it’s the truth and nothing but the truth. As a journalist I’m extremely jealous of Dream City, a project by Dutch duo Anoek Steketee & Eefje Blankevoort: they travelled the globe looking for amusement parks in parts of the world where you wouldn’t even think there could be one (Iraq, Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Turkmenistan). As an art lover I’m a fan of the pictures they brought home. They have an eerie touch that makes you suspicious; that makes you wonder if all of this hasn’t been staged, just to fool you. A touch which accentuates the strangeness of all of this. The square format of the pictures and the contrast with those super white pages of that book (with pink edges!) only add to that. A (belated) book of the month. Absolutely.

‘During a trip through Iraqi-Kurdistan in 2006, we found ourselves in the amusement park in Duhok, an unexciting town near the border with Turkey and Syria. Reports of attacks, kidnappings and sectarian violence filled the newspapers on a daily basis. Meanwhile, we ate ice cream, rode on the Ferris wheel and talked to the park’s diverse visitors. In the park’s pleasant but equally surreal surroundings, visitors talked frankly about their daily lives, their fears, hopes and dreams for the future. Kurds, Arabs and American soldiers, Christians and Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis; segments of the Iraqi population that were submerged in a deadly struggle outside the gates, amiably rubbed shoulders in Dream City. The contrast between the amusement park and reality could not have been greater.’

That visit proved to be the starting point of a long journey (2006-2010) along the amusement parks in diverse places in the world. In Dream City, you’ll find images (by Anoek Steketee) from trips to Iraq (Dream City), Lebanon (Beirut Lunapark), Israel (Superland), the Palestinian Territories (Funland), Rwanda (Bambino Supercity), Colombia (Hacienda Napoles & Jaime Duque), Indonesia (Dunia Fantasia), China (Nanhu & Shimlong), Turkmenistan (Turkmenbashi’s World of Fairy Tales) and the USA (Dollywood). Eefje Blankevoort has written a text about every park, providing some background information on these sometimes strange parks.

And so you read about Dollywood, built near Dolly Parton’s heimat, about Hacienda Napoles, which used to be owned by drug baron Escobar. Or about Dream City, which until 1991 used to be a military base for Saddam Hussein’s troops. ‘Hundreds of Kurds were imprisoned and executed on the base. It now is the ultimate symbol of victory over Saddam Hussein and of Kurdish Freedom.’ Kigali City Park was meant to be the largest amusement park in East and Central Africa. ‘Six months after the scheduled opening, the attractions stood rusting as the initiator looked on helplessly. What should have been an example of Rwanda’s development after the genocide has become the symbol of a developing country’s growing pains.’

The sometimes rather surreal (and beautiful) photographs point it out already, but reading those stories makes you even more aware of the weirdness of some of these parks. But in the end it is as Blankevoort writes too – even if it sounds a bit cheesy: ‘People everywhere appear to share the same views about what fun is: amusement parks look more or less the same wherever one goes.’ And then closing it off with a quote by Walt Disney: ‘It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, it’s a world of hopes, and a world of fears, there’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.’ Wonderful book.

Dream City (Anoek Steketee & Eefje Blankevoort) is published by Kehrer Verlag (there’s a Dutch and an English version; 40 euro). Info here. You’ll find more pictures on Steketee’s site, here.

 

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