phillip toledano: america the gift shop.

Chalk up another amazing project to the work of New York-based photographer Phillip Toledano. From the eerie solitude of his photographic series “Bankrupt” to one of the most beautiful projects I’ve ever seen – his exquisite “Days With My Father” – I literally never know what Toledano will come up with next. For his latest project, just in time for the upcoming American election, he’s come up with a brilliant but frightening installation looking back on the last 8 years of American history.

In his new online exhibition “America The Gift Shop”, Toledano shifts from the personal to the political. Taking solid aim at the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, the rise of the head-in-the-sand American retail mentality, and commodification of media, he’s stocked his store with succinct, pointed, and no holds barred “souvenirs” from recent American politics and its involvement with the world.

From a funhouse inflatable Guantanamo Bay detention cell (pictured above) to an Abu Ghraib bobblehead to a Dick Cheney document-shredding snow globe, his items take the clichéd and stereotypical tchotchkes and twist them into multi-layered statements; on the North American society of consumption and on the political and moral wrongs that still haven’t been righted around the world. I also feel like it’s a statement on the circus-mentality of so much American media; frosting the news of the world and upping it’s drama for entertainment purposes. Just like all of these mementos, their brilliance lies in how at first you feel entertained by the juxtaposition of the item with what it’s representing, but then when you think about what it actually means you’re only left feeling disturbed. And stunned at how all of these has gone on, lots of it to our collective knowledge, and yet still it hasn’t been stopped and its perpetrators haven’t been punished.

One of my favourites is the chocolate bar “Choc and Awe”. While the name is a play on the disgusting arrogance the American military displayed when naming it’s Iraqi invasion operation “Shock and Awe”, once unwrapped the chocolate inside brilliantly displays one of the greatest George W. fumbles of all time: his historically premature assumption in May, 2003 that the Iraqi invasion was “Mission Accomplished”.

Make no mistake though, despite the saavy of the messaging and the inherent tinge of humour in how it’s being relayed, these are serious statements indeed. Deadly serious. When it comes to the two crochet dolls – “Ibrahim the Eviscerated” and “Abdul the Amputee” (described with the classic marketing-teaser to “collect all 23,000”) – it becomes pointedly clear very quickly that we are, in fact, talking about human lives. 23,000 lives… and casualties of a war that most people in the world believe never should have started in the first place.

Major thanks to Phil for the info.


  1. when i go to a gift shop, i always look for cute little stuffed animals and other cute stuffs**’


  1. […] voor Shape and Colour) Verwante schrijfsels: Made In America (Stacy Peralta) Square America: oude foto’s uit […]

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