A young boy stands on a pile of rubble, a gaunt look of worry on his face. A car is on fire in the background, smoke billowing around it. On a concrete fragment, a Pikachu with sad eyes sits, ears drooping. This strange and striking juxtaposition comes from Pokémon Go in Syria, a photography series in which creatures from the now-notorious game are placed amidst Syrian streets. Photographer Khaled Akil contrasts the lighthearted fun of the addictive game with the oft-forgotten tragedy and horror of the civil war in Syria. Born in Aleppo, Akil now lives in Istanbul, but still has family members in his home country. Talking to Al Jazeera earlier this week, he explained that Pokémon Go in Syria was not meant to blame those who have forgotten about the conflict in Syria, but rather to serve as a “gentle reminder-poke.”
The background images in Pokémon Go in Syria, from AFP, show everyday scenes in the wreckage of the city. In one photograph, boys play in a muddy puddle in the middle of the street, surrounded by debris, while a Pokémon, Crawdaunt, sits in a broken pipe. In another image, a Vaporeon accompanies a young boy as he walks his bike down a destroyed street; here, the accompanying Pokémon emphasizes the young boy’s isolation. A tiny Charizard roars atop a tank, alongside members of Daesh. These haunting and bleak images are shown to be even more stark alongside the colorful and carefree Pokémon. Akil’s work insists upon self-reflection, overlaying a virtual world with the real one, and in doing so, contrasting the everyday horror in Syria with the comparative luxury of the Pokémon Go-playing world.
The Creators Project: How was the idea for Pokemon Go in Syria generated?
Khaled Akil: Watching the news of Syria along with the news of this game forced me to think about how it would look like to hunt for a Pokémon character among the rubble in Syria, In a country where only the sound of war is hearing and killing is the only thing to hunt for.
Were there other ideas for your approach?
I was working on my regular art project which is different [in] technique and idea from Pokémon Go in Syria when I did these photographs, it was a quick statement on what taking place in Syria.
What do you hope people will learn from this series?
First to think twice before supporting any war, and for game lovers to realize that war in virtual games is much different that reality, and then for Pokémon Go players I wanted them to pause and know that somewhere else on this planet there are many things worth to pay attention to.
What does your series specifically add to the #PokemonInSyria social media campaign?
This series went viral all around the world, it was a great opportunity to get Syria's story heard all around the world in artistic way.
Are you planning to create a part two?
I was planning to work on part two, but another idea came which I just published, it's a project called Hate Loves Hate and it is also a statement about hatred and extremism. I'll work on part two and I hope that I can cooperate with any agency to provide some photos from Syria since it wasn't easy to find high resolution photos online.