Greed Game: Politics of oil

Greed Game was an altered book project and my first attempt at political illustration. It was an important early step in development of my visual approach to documentary, particularly for places where I do nor have my own photos and sketches. For full details of the project and links see:

Book Design 1: Altered Book: Greed Game 

Greed Game cover
Greed Game cover

The project was based on ‘Money Rush’ by Andrew Duncan and published in 1979 by The Anchor Press Ltd. about the impact of discovery of oil in the Middle East in 1970s, placed in the context of current events from on-line research. My plan was to produce a thought-provoking game based on information from the book, but linking the events and motivations of both Western powers and Middle Eastern players to current events in the Middle East and the growth of terrorism.  The issues raised by the book are relevant not only for the Middle East, but the links between money and global power more generally. This is a theme to which I intend to return at some future date.

The topic proved far too complex to adequately cover, the book too outdated for a real game, and the final outcome too rushed to be effective.  The whole approach and the content would need to be completely rethought. Nevertheless my work explored some of the issues involved in producing documentary art work – to adapt the visual style to different cultural contexts. It also continued earlier experimentation with different media and materials manipulated digitally on iPad and/or Photoshop.


Money Rush covered a period in Iran which I had personally witnessed – a period when our self-interested promotion of the Shah and his SAVAK secret police fuelled support for the rise of the Ayatollahs and stifling of any democratic resistance in Iran. A fact that journalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan later mentioned to me as a reason why they felt support for Osama Bin Laden.

Greed Game attempted to communicate:

  • schizophrenia of the shah living in a fairy world of the past and imposing it with torture and repression that is intensified now under the Islamic Revolution (though currently – temporarily?? – relaxing somewhat after the nuclear deal)
  • the very conservative male domination of the mullahs that took over with a promise to address poverty, stamp out corruption and provide a strong moral government
  • deep-rooted ‘spiritual’, sufi and also progressive art ‘feminine’ side (even lorry drivers I met in the 70s could recite poetry and the Shah and his father implemented social reforms eg in position of women) which became linked to corruption of the elite class

The visual style was characterised by:

  • Colours: like Isfahan and other mosques: deep blue, turquoise, gold and light purple
  • Shape dynamics: wavy, swirly Arabesques overlaid by vertical bars and shadowy figures in the dark
  • Materials: juxtaposing gouache, photos and transparency slides as whitewash/overlay hiding what is underneath


Oman is a relatively peaceful country, proud of its cultural past and developing a tourist industry. Before the current Sultan Qaboos, the British controlled Oman and supported very cruel tyrants in their concern to protect their access to India and the Persian Gulf.  Money Rush lambasts the current Sultan Qaboos because he wasted lots of money early in his reign. But (from extensive on-line research) there seems to be little political repression and Omani women have a lot of freedom. The main concern is what will happen when Qaboos dies – he has no heir, nor has he groomed a clear successor, or set up a strong democratic system.

Greed Game focused particularly on the account of role of British imperialism and barbarities of slavery and abuse of women. But the style drew very much on the rich cultural heritage:

  • Colours: browns, reds, oranges
  • Shape dynamics:texture, curved like mosque and sea waves
  • Materials: woodcut, gouache and ink blobs including gold and copper acrylic inks

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a particularly oppressive  regime propped up by Western oil and arms trade interests. Until recently there had been little in the way of more progressive culture like the protest movements in Iran, or the opening up in UAE and Oman. The elite family continues to be corrupt and hypocritical with millionaire lifestyles and have committed human rights abuses. Women continue to be treated as possessions with few freedoms, and women activists are in jail.

My visual work therefore focused on the push for conformity to a

  • Colours: Black, white and green of Wahabi Islam. Some red as ‘forbidden’ colour.
  • Shape dynamics: Angular, calligraphic, abstract.
  • Materials: Foil cutouts from my contact lens cases and ends of orange nets manipulated on iPad to produce mechanical rows of people conforming, or forced to conform.


UAE is a political entity largely cobbled together by colonial powers. It comprises 7 emirates who find it quite problematic to work together because of historic rivalries. Much of what has been built has risen out of the desert because of a wish for self-aggrandisement by sheikhs like Sheikh Zayed. Sheikh Rashid of Dubai is however more progressive and visionary. Nevertheless there has been considerable and development and progress that is likely to continue and gradually democratise. The situation for women is quite conservative, but there are women airplane pilots and entrepreneurs coming up. The main issue seems to be the human rights of immigrant workers and an almost apartheid system.

  • Colours: Red, Green, Black and White from the flag.
  • Shape dynamics: Horizontals of the desert and verticals of sky-scrapers.
  • Materials: Collage, tissue (the sheikhs seem to always have coloured tissues at hand), wallpaper textures.

Al Jazeera Press freedom

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