Slaves of Happiness Island
y message to the head of the Louvre would be to come and see how we are living here,” said Tariq,* a carpenter’s helper working on construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a $653 million Middle Eastern outpost of the iconic Parisian museum. Set to be completed in 2015, its collection will include a Torah from 19th-century Yemen, Picassos, and Magrittes.
“See our living conditions and think about the promises they made,” Tariq told me through a translator.
Last year, in his mid 30s, Tariq left his job at a Pakistani textile mill with dreams of being a crane operator in the Gulf. He showed me his certificate of crane proficiency, pulling the worn piece of paper out of the pocket of his beige salwar kameez. Recruiters promised him a salary of $326 a month—for a $1,776 recruitment fee to be paid in advance. With a cousin guiding him through the process, Tariq flew to Abu Dhabi to work for the Regal Construction company, one of roughly 900 construction outfits that employ foreign workers in the emirate.
But when Tariq arrived, Regal didn’t need him. For 24 days, he waited without pay, living in a squalid workers’ camp. When work finally materialized, he learned he would make only $176 a month. His boss confiscated his passport so that he couldn’t change jobs or leave the country. He sends half his salary back to his family. After 11 months in the Gulf, he still has not paid back the loan he took out to get there.
“How can I stay happy with a salary of $176?” Tariq asked, with an uncomfortable smile.
Tariq is one of dozens of construction workers laboring on Saadiyat Island whom I interviewed this May. He took out his flip phone and snapped a picture of the drawing I’d sketched of him. He had a gentle face that lit up when he talked about cricket. He told me he’d use my drawing as a profile pic on Facebook.
Though it is now only a sunbaked construction site, Saadiyat, a ten-square-mile atoll 500 yards off the coast of Abu Dhabi, will be home to branches of the Louvre, the Guggenheim, and New York University, alongside hotels, shopping, and luxurious homes. It will be a cultural paradise, conjured by the country’s vast oil wealth but built on the backs of men who are little more than indentured servants.
"Impossible bootles" is the title of an ongoing series showing worlds kept in what appears to be a vessel. As for the original impossible bottles they show objects that don´t really seem to fit through the mouth of the bottle. I found them to be an amazing inspiration to show animated worlds that are somehow limited or finite yet to include figures that observe their surroundings and experience it, maybe got lost but see the bottle, the boundaries and ask themselves how they ever got into it… (artist statement)
The illustrations above were designed by the German artist and naturalist, Maria Sibylla Merian. The plates were originally prepared for a mid-1670s book on the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies. However, the scientific community of the time largely ignored Merian’s work because it wasn’t published in Latin, the formal language of science.
Some forty years later, Merian finally reworked and expanded this earlier book on European insects. Sadly, she died shortly before the completed book - in Latin, finally - was readied for publication in 1717 as 'Erucarum Ortus..'. The full title of the book is said to translate as: 'The Miraculous Transformation and Unusual Flower-Food of Caterpillars'.
Merian’s portrayal of plants and insects in a semi-naturalistic way was something of a step forward in the world of scientific illustration. Many of her contemporaries ‘arranged’ the illustrated scenes to show man’s domination over nature, or took liberties with embellishment to impress and dazzle the audience.