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Make No Little Plans: The Worlds of the UAE / Lauren Lancaster

September 2013

Exhibit opening, screening, & talk
Tuesday September 24, 2013, 7:30 PM
Moderated by Anna Van Lenten, Half King Photo Series curator

Lauren Lancaster arrived in the United Arab Emirates in 2008 to work as a photographer for The National, the UAE’s main English-language daily. These photographs reflect assignments for the paper as well as freelance and personal work. For the two-and-a-half years she lived in Abu Dhabi, she covered stories about the young country and its rapid and incongruous growth. Foreign workers comprise more than 85% of its population of over nine million, and they have no path to citizenship. Such an unusual proportion of citizen to foreigner has created a transient, expat culture and labor force, with little more than the next paycheck as investment in the country’s future. In another way, the future of the UAE seems unsustainable. With its extreme heat (130 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer), its breakneck pace of development, its need to desalinate its water, and projects like Ski Dubai, the UAE uses more electricity than any other country in the world. In fact, it has the largest carbon footprint of any country in the world, despite not having very much industry apart from oil and gas production.

But perhaps the most salient aspect that Lancaster perceived about the forty-two-year-old country is how its Gilded-Age indigenous culture sits atop a vast, austere desert and widespread human deprivation. It builds whatever it imagines—a ski facility in the desert, the tallest skyscraper on the planet—because it can. No little plans, only grand ones. You come to it on a work visa and the country owes you a paycheck but not much else; anyway, it hasn’t promised anything else. There’s no “dream” except escapist leisure activities—provided you can afford them.

- Anna Van Lenten


LAUREN LANCASTER, a former underwater shipwreck archaeologist, is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and has worked on assignment for Time, Fader Magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek. Her work has also been published in Le Monde’s M Magazine, New York Magazine, and The New Republic.


All photos © Lauren Lancaster.

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