PhotoSummer: Artist's Statement

Christopher Sims

Theater of War: The Pretend Villages of Iraq and Afghanistan

Since 2005, I have been making photographs within imagined, fabricated Iraqi and Afghan villages on the training grounds of U.S. Army bases. The villages are situated in the deep forests of North Carolina and Louisiana, and in a great expanse of desert near Death Valley in California. Each base features clusters of villages spread out over thousands of acres, in pretend countries known by different names at each base: Talatha, Braggistan, or simply 'Iraq.'

The villages serve as a strange and poignant way station for people heading off to war and for those who have fled it. U.S. soldiers interact with role-players who are often recent immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have now found work in America playing out versions of the lives they left behind and unexpectedly pioneering a new form of cultural guest work.

I am drawn to the aesthetics the U.S. military has employed in their mission to create an 'Orientalist' environment. The worlds that they have constructed are both Western and Islamic; convincingly accurate and comically misdirected; mundane and nightmarish. This is a command performance of simulacra and simulation, where the home front and the theater of war, and the performance of conflict and actual combat, become one and the same, and neither.