A project by Anoek Steketee and Eefje Blankevoort

During a trip through Iraqi-Kurdistan in 2006, we found ourselves in the amusement park in Duhok, an unexciting town near the border with Turkey and Syria. Reports of attacks, kidnappings and sectarian violence filled the newspapers on a daily basis. Meanwhile, we ate ice cream, rode on the Ferris wheel and talked to the park’s diverse visitors. In the park’s pleasant but equally surreal surroundings, visitors talked frankly about their daily lives, their fears, hopes and dreams for the future. Kurds, Arabs and American soldiers, Christians and Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis; segments of the Iraqi population that were submerged in a deadly struggle outside the gates, amiably rubbed shoulders in Dream City.

This visit has been the starting point of a journey along the constructed world of amusement parks in diverse places in the world. From 2006 until 2010 we visited amusement parks in Iraq (Dream City), Lebanon (Beirut Lunapark), Israel (Superland), the Palestinian Territories (Funland), Rwanda (Bambino Supercity), Colombia (Hacienda Napoles& Jaime Duque), Indonesia (Dunia Fantasia), China (Nanhu&Shimlong), Turkmenistan (Turkmenbashi’s World of Fairy Tales) and the USA (Dollywood).

Although the cultural, sociological and political context of each place differs greatly, the parks’ uniform appearance forms the universally recognisable backdrop. With their sparkling lights, fairy-tale scenery and perfectly maintained gardens, the parks all derive their value from the universal and timeless human need to escape from daily reality in a communal constructed space, surrounded by a fence.

During our travels, it became increasingly apparent to us that an amusement park is more than just a place to have fun; it often also plays a highly symbolic role. The origin, location and chosen theme of the amusement park offer meaningful insights into the socio-political situation of the country in which it is situated. Behind the subject’s innocent, light-hearted exterior lurks a darker, staged core, which raises questions about the way different realities can be depicted.