The War Games of Non-Resolution in Western Sahara
Toy Soldiers investigates the impact and psychological consequences of non-resolution and containment on the real soldiers – posed as toy soldiers – born from a historic cycle of colonial conflict, invisibility and the de-humanizing effects of war. Exploring the paradigm of conflict through our cultural notions of freedom, nationhood and entertainment, Toy Soldiers attempts to create a dialogue via the viewing of modern conflict as war games in Western Sahara known as “Africa’s last colony,” where freedom and nationhood exist suspended as a concept.—Simon Brann Thorpe
The act of posing real soldiers as toy soldiers draws on several narratives, both historical and contemporary. Via the direct reference to controversial and culturally iconic imagery such as Robert Capa’s Falling Soldier and Joe Rosenthal’s Flag Raising on Iwo Jima and their projection onto the unfamiliar, the project asks questions on the issues of power and propaganda. Drawing from the works of current artists such as An-My Lé and John Gerrard, with influences by past masters such as Roger Fenton’s Crimean war documents and Mathew Brady, Toy Soldiers attempts to further blur the boundaries between the established genre of documentary photography and art.
Via a reality re-constructed, the performance attempts to challenge our ideas of traditional war reportage in the search for new perspectives on conflict, and notions of truth in photography, through the formation of a new archive on war.
At its heart Toy Soldiers is an allegory of war via a unique collaboration between an artist and a military commander. Toy Soldiers, a story of war, is shot entirely on location in the hauntingly isolated and beautiful territory known as Liberated Western Sahara in the disputed territory and ongoing conflict in Western Sahara. Through this little-known conflict Toy Soldiers explores multiple complex aspects of our culture’s relationship to the glorification of war, ubiquitous consumption of images of war and the relationship between the increasingly indistinguishable nature of real images of conflict and their fantasy portrayal as entertainment.
Simon Brann Thorpe (b. 1970) is a photographer from England who is known for his cinematic landscapes and environmental portraiture including Toy Soldiers, a contemporary and compelling allegory of war. After graduating from Alberta College of Art, Calgary, Canada, in 1996 with a BA in Photography, Thorpe returned to his native England, producing bodies of work including Men of Mississippi (2000), Landmine Victims (2004), Immaculate Consumption (2007) and Toy Soldiers (2010-12). Early work explored the interplay between issues of identity and landscape, more recently his practice has transitioned towards groundbreaking conceptual narrative documents on issues of identity, memory, conflict and trauma. He has exhibited widely throughout Europe and has received a 2015 IPA book award for Toy Soldiers and been short-listed for many prestigious awards and grants including the International Photography Awards, the Aftermath Award, the Arte Laguna Prize and the AOP Awards. Thorpe now lives in London.