Hunting for Pokemon in the rubble of war-torn Syria

Artist Khaled Akil places Pokemon creatures amid scenes of destruction to get people looking up from their smartphones at the harsh realities of war.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz
2 min read

People are searching for Pokemon in parks, malls and museums. In Khaled Akil's imagination, they're also hunting for them in the streets of war-ravaged Syria.

The Syrian artist has taken Pokemon Go creatures and Photoshopped them into pictures of his war-torn homeland, presenting a stark contrast between the whimsy of the augmented-reality game and the sobering day-to-day realities of war.

"Funny but sad," a visitor to his Instagram account writes of the series. Writes another, "Epic. Tragic. Brilliant."

"The news of Syria in everywhere, and now the Pokemon Go game is trending," the artist said in an email. "The mix between these two made me wonder what it would be like to hunt for a Pokemon character among the rubble in Syria, and how a virtual game attracts more attention than the atrocities committed daily in real-life Syria."


A Syrian boy walks with his bicycle in the devastated Sukari district in the northern city of Aleppo in 2014, a Pokemon by his side.

Khaled Akil, Baraa Al-Halabi/AFP

The wildly popular augmented-reality game has reached 75 million downloads, surpassing those of every other mobile game developed in the last two years, according to mobile-app analytics group Sensor Tower. Akil, who was born in Aleppo and now lives in Istanbul, has yet to join the Pokecraze.

"I see people playing this game all over around the world, but I never played it," he said.

The artist graduated from Beirut Arab University with a bachelor's degree in 2009, and returned home to Syria just before civil war erupted there. Many members of his family remain in Syria, and Akil has sought to make sense of the nation's troubles through his art, a hybrid of photography and painting.

He calls his Pokemon images "Pokemon Go in Syria - Part 1," and suggests he may expand the series as the war continues.

"This project is not to blame people for not paying attention to Syria," he stressed. "It is just a spotlight on what is happening there."

In another recent intersection of Pokemon and the Syrian conflict, the activist group Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office has been tweeting poignant photos of kids holding up printouts of popular Pokemon creatures, along with their locations, which are identified as being near areas of heavy fighting, and the words "save me."


An unexpected place for a Mega Charizard. Akil altered Agence France-Presse photo for his series.

Khaled Akil, AFP

(Via Al Jazeera)