Dazed Digital


Jareh Das: International Migrants Day

December 20, 2011

The arts writer and citizen activist speaks to us about a local campaign in support of International Migrants Day

  • Text by Simone Sebastian

Like most major cities in the world, Dubai is home to migrant communities that have played a major part in the city’s growth over the past 40 years. In honour of December 18 - International Migrants Day, one newbie resident decided to launch a campaign to thank the countless workers who have helped build not just this city, but all our cities. We speak to Jareh Das, an arts writer who moved to the city just three months ago.

Satellite Voices: What brought about your involvement with International Migrants Day?
Jareh Das: I’ve been following the work of Tania Bruguera for a while and more recently her involvement with Immigrant Movement International (IM International). IMI is a five year project initiated by the artist to help define the immigrant as a unique, new global citizen. It also wants to test the concept of arte útil or “useful art”, in which artists actively implement the merger of art into society’s urgent social, political and scientific issues.

This called for global actions in cities across the world on International Immigrants Day, Dec 18, which was declared by the UN since 2000 as a day to mark or take into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world. It started as a conversation with a friend of mine Ghazwan Hamdan about what we could do here in Dubai (in limited time) and we came up with the concept of a social network campaign saying Thank You to the immigrant workforce here in Dubai. I'd hoped the local press would run a feature on this and start a viral 'Thank You' and print campaign but this never happened. It’s not too late as I think awareness extends beyond an event or day. 

SV: What kind of reaction did the campaign receive here in Dubai?
Jareh Das: I contacted several members of the art community, the response was quite appalling, most did not reply. But really it is my impression that people are indifferent to these issues here in Dubai. There seems to be a widespread acceptance of 'migrant issues' here in Dubai as 'the norm'. Although I feel artists like Charlie Koolhaas, e-Explo and Karen Dias have produced projects that are highly informative, highlighting and hopefully helping resolve these issues. I'm sure there are others here who help out in a more subtle way. More power to them! 

Really it’s about changing people's attitudes and changing the laws that allow for exploitation, employment and labor laws that protect the welfare of workers. This is not just in Dubai it’s everywhere, some places worse or better than others.

I am pleased that some people participated and it extended beyond Dubai to London, Berlin, Middlesbrough, Rotterdam and Lagos. We were all saying thank you to the often forgotten and invisible faces without whom, our cities would not function.

Image credits:
Jareh Das, Al Quoz, Dubai
Jelil Atiku, Lagos, Nigeria
Hansi Momodu, West London
Image credits :
Artwork by Nathalie Mba Bikoro and photographed by Kjartan Abel Nilsen, London

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