Afghanistani semiotics of recognition.

I've just downloaded a 28 page PDF document showing some of the 5,800 candidates for Afghanistan's parliamentary election yesterday. Each of the 392 candidates have a symbol and photo of themselves next to their name, to help the illiterate majority of the population (80% - F, 55% - M) vote with ease.

Some of my favourite symbols:

p4 - pomegranate
p5 - door handle
p6 - warm soup with ladle
p10 - calculator
p18 - toothbrush and paste
p19 - water bottle
p21 - audio cassette (banned by the taliban)
p22 - trainers

Last year the 18 presidential candidates got to design their own. This year, the Joint Electoral Management Body did lots of focus-group research to ensure none of the symbols were 'culturally unacceptable' and the candidates got three chances to pick one they liked out of a hat. There weren't enough symbols to go round; one candidate has 3 footballs representing him (p24), another, 2 lampshades (p8).

The most interesting thing about the symbols is their non-systematic representation. Some are pictograms c1970s, others like the eyes are straight out of 1980s comic books, melodramatic shading et al. One is a romantic sketch of the sun rising over mountains. Mostly though, it was a great opportunity to get nostalgic over the overwhelming likeness to Microsoft Word's clip art, back in the day.


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