Ard Al Amal, or the utopian image between Damascus and Cairo

After conducting a long research work into the use of social networks in the Syrian conflict—and after staying in Cairo during the Tahrir Square protests—the collective Foundland, already guest and contributor of Krisis | Orientation, investigates again the collective visual imaginaries taking form in Arabic societies in a period of strong political, social and religious infighting.

 

In this article published by Open!, the two researchers and graphic designers examine the—unexpected—role that some Western cartoon characters are playing within contexts much different from each other. Last year, in fact, on the walls of the houses of Saraqeb—a small village in the north of Syria—appeared some murals depicting Mickey Mouse, Simba, Mowgli and SpongeBob, accompanied by anti-regime slogans. A reappropriation and rewriting operation that, according to Foundland, originates mostly from an opposition lacking a central organization or a leader of reference. Furthermore the cultural origin of these characters—American, or Western, capitalistic society—is not perceived as a foreign one, since some of them, after twenty years of broadcasting on local television channels—obviously after having been dubbed—are deeply rooted in Arabic and Syrian society.

From a context distinguished by a strong friction, in which these—reborn—characters shout from the streets and the houses’ walls singing the praise of anti-regime struggle, the analysis moves to an outlying area of Cairo—6th of October City—targeted by an urban requalification project aimed to build high-end neighbourhoods for the Egyptian wealthy classes. Here too the communication, even though of a different nature and aimed to entirely different goals, is organized around images and imaginaries originated from a Western cartoon, Future Boy Conan (translated as Conan the boy from the future in Italy, and as Adnan and Leena in Arabic countries): two boys that, in a post-apocalyptic future, undertake a journey in search of Ard al Amal, a sort of Promised Land. And it is exactly the image of this Ard al Amal to become the crucial point around which revolve the communication and the marketing strategies for the new 6th of October City neighbourhood.

Different contexts, different meanings, different goals; but the employed images and imaginaries are the same. The question that Foundland asks itself—and us—thus becomes almost obvious: “Is it possible that cartoon characters and the landscapes they inhabit can provide us with clues that relate to future imagined society models?”

And of what kind of future society are we talking about? Ard al Amal is a future that can be simply purchased, as is suggested by the new neighbourhood’s marketing and communication, or is it instead an uncertain future, toward which we can tend at the cost of losing the safety of our living rooms?

However unattainable their paradise may be it can only ever be reached through struggle and navigation and can never simply be purchased”.