All photos by Kristin Giordano
In an effort to shed light on the experiences of low-income expats in Qatar, a husband-wife team has produced a traveling art exhibit called “Skyscrapers and Shadows.”
The exhibit, which is part of a larger project on the lives and experiences of migrant workers in Qatar, was produced by Andrew Gardner, as associate professor of anthropology at the University of Puget Sound, and photographer Kristen Giordano.
Both lived in Qatar between 2008 and 2010, and Gardner last year was the lead author of a report called “A portrait of low-income migrants in contemporary Qatar,” which highlighted many of the problems facing this segment of the population.
The exhibit has been on display around the US and recently left Abu Dhabi’s New York University. It includes photography, explanations about those whose pictures were taken and cultural items found in Doha’s labor accommodations.
In an artist statement she shared with Doha News, Giordano explains some of the details of her photography project, titled “The Bachelors.” She writes:
“To live in Doha was to live with segregation… Even a visit to the grocery store can be an exercise in exclusion as westerners and other wealthy expats walk past the throngs of South Asian workers who are denied entrance to the air-conditioned shopping malls.
…When I set out to make these photographs, I had hoped to convey something of who these men were as individuals, and to discover that fact for myself.”
Giordano said she initially encountered difficulty in reaching the men she wanted to photograph. She took a few trips to the Industrial Area, but felt “out of place in that city of men.”
She then headed to the beach in Al Khor on Friday afternoons, and with the help of translators, began to work on her portraits.
“I photographed each man alone, against a backdrop of the sea. I wanted a neutral backdrop that removed specificity from their location, illuminating the in-between state that many expats and immigrants experience…
I collected information from each man on a white index card—their name, country of origin, occupation, marital status, number of children, and monthly income, which was written on the front of the card and held by each man during the portrait session.”
According to the description of the project, Gardner and Giordano chose their project to give “vision and voice” to Qatar’s oft-unseen labor class. They added that the Gulf is a unique place in terms of migration, for the following reasons:
- Citizens comprise a small minority in their own country (nine out 10 residents of Qatar are expats);
- Foreigners are governed by the kafala sponsorship system, which restricts their ability to seek better job opportunities or leave the country without their employer’s permission;
- Many blue-collar workers are housed in labor camps, apart from the rest of the population;
- Many expats pay thousands of dollars to recruitment companies for visas to work in the Gulf; and
- The lives of many low-income workers mainly involve going to work and being transferred back to their accommodations, so they have no interaction with Gulf society or culture.