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Toy Soldiers: Real Men, Real Meaning

Photographer Simon Brann Thorpe recently shot an incredible series of images in a region of Africa called the Liberated Western Sahara. In it he took local soldiers, the majority of whom had never seen the iconic little green and tan soldiers so familiar here in the U.S., and photographed them in scenes reminiscent of those plastic toys.

Old oil drums were cut, painted and covered in sand to create bases. Shots were accomplished with the assistance of the local military commander, a Sahrawi refugee like his men, who ranged in age from 18 to 80.

Simon Brann Thorpe - Toy Soldiers 2

They message of the images appears to lie on several levels, in particular the feeling that the local conflict has been forgotten (or is being ignored) by the world at large. Thorpe explains,

“That’s the meta-narrative of the project, war games in general and how images of war are digested and consumed. Especially now in the digital realm, which is ravenous for content but short on attention span. What are the consequences of ubiquitous images of suffering? Do they desensitize an audience? How do you communicate an invisible issue, an invisible conflict that nobody cares about?”

The images are available here in this book, but you can see more (and learn more about the project) here on Roads and Kingdoms. Take a few minutes to do so. It's brilliant.

Not familiar with the Western Sahara? Here's an overview courtesy of the CIA.

Western Sahara is a disputed territory on the northwest coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria. After Spain withdrew from its former colony of Spanish Sahara in 1976, Morocco annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Morocco's sovereignty ended in a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation. As part of this effort, the UN sought to offer a choice to the peoples of the Western Sahara between independence (favored by the Polisario Front) or integration into Morocco. A proposed referendum never took place due to lack of agreement on voter eligibility. The 2,700 km- (1,700 mi-) long defensive sand berm, built by the Moroccans from 1980 to 1987 and running the length of the territory, continues to separate the opposing forces with Morocco controlling the roughly 80 percent of the territory west of the berm. Local demonstrations criticizing the Moroccan authorities occur regularly, and there are periodic ethnic tensions between the native Sahrawi population and Moroccan immigrants. Morocco maintains a heavy security presence in the territory.


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