Tag Archives: Anoek Steketee

Roller Coasters in Rwanda; Fairy Tales in Turkmenistan

While photographer Anoek Steketee and writer Eefje Blankevoort traveled through Northern Iraq in 2006, researching a story on the Kurds and their efforts to create a united Kurdistan, they stumbled across a surreal scene amidst the daily reports of kidnappings and sectarian violence—an amusement park called Dream City, located on what was formerly a military base for Saddam Hussein. While outside the gates they may have been at war, inside the Disney-like park the pair saw Arabs and Americans, Christians and Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis peacefully rubbing shoulders while strolling around eating ice cream and popcorn, or waiting patiently in line for the bumper cars.

That visit spurred a four-year journey, documented in their series Dream City, through the world of carnies and Ferris wheels from Rwanda to Turkmenistan. The parks’ surreal fairy-tale settings, with perfectly manicured gardens in areas torn by genocide and ethnic clashes, showed the duo that the desire to escape from reality is a universal human need. Which was something America’s great creator of amusement parks, Walt Disney, based his empire on. “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in,” said Disney describing his parks, “I want them to feel they’re in another world.”

TIME‘s Alexander Ho spoke to Steketee about the project:

Did you ever encounter any sort of trouble from park security or local police? 

Most of the time, the management of the parks welcomed us. But there were some incidents. In Turkmenistan, the authorities are not so happy with western journalists. We went on a tourist visa to avoid any restrictions in our movements. After a few days working in the park we had to go with the security and hand over the material. Fortunately I was able to avoid giving it to them, but we were forced to stop photographing and were refused further access to the park. In Israel, it took me a few hours to convince the security that I was coming with all the equipment just to photograph amusement parks.

Are there plans to continue the project? Are there shows slated this year for Dream City to be exhibited—perhaps in America?

At the moment we are looking for the possibilities to bring it to the USA, and after that, to Colombia and the other places we visited for the project, like Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, China and Indonesia. Also, in cooperation with FOTODOK, an educational program is being developed which we would like to bring with along with the exhibition.

What projects do you have coming up? 

Our next project is, among others, about a popular radio soap opera in Rwanda, which is a sort of Romeo and Juliet story situated in two villages in the countryside.

Dream City is published by Kehrer Verlag. More of Steketee’s work can be seen on her website at: www.anoeksteketee.com.

Photographer #339: Anoek Steketee

Anoek Steketee, 1974, The Netherlands, is a documentary photographer with a unique approach. In her series Dream City she visited, together with journalist Eefje Blankevoort, various amusement parks. She went to Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Colombia, Indonesia, China, Turkmenistan and the USA. The parks form a universal backdrop to the large differences in cultural, sociological and political contexts. She stages her subjects and her lighting is impecable. In 2011 Dream City was released as a monograph. For the series Frontstage she visited Iran on several occasions between 2003 and 2006. She wanted to explore to what extend the image of Iran had been created by the western media and the Iranian propaganda itself. She asked passersby to pose, again using flash lights and giving the people directions. By using this technique, the people in the images become individuals with a story, while the Islamic Republic and the revolutionary ideology faded into the background. The following images come from the series Dream City, Frontstage and Holy Sepulchre.

Website: www.anoeksteketee.com