Are you still here?

Sandra Zarneshan

2014 - Ongoing

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Sprawling and vast, Dubai’s history recalls it as a royal desert sandwiched between trade routes. In the last few decades, the city has experienced sweeping modernisation; its landscape shaped, molded and driven by extreme globalisation. The city’s legacy is defined by its population: the 90% of its residents are from somewhere else. For non-citizens losing a job or reaching retirement age means leaving the country, regardless of time spent or even being born there.

I moved to Dubai 14 years ago, following my father who arrived in the late 90s for a job opportunity. Many years passed before I could call Dubai ‘home’, and it took a constant dedication to forge a connection to the place, beyond the stereotypical narrative and the normalisation of the departure as a persistent eventuality. This enduring feeling of transience ignited an internal curiosity, and in 2014, I started to visually examine this place I don’t belong to, meanwhile I do belong to. I began to question the melancholy feeling of ephemerality, that feeling when you reach out to an old friend and ask ‘are you still in town? Are you still here?’. A certain impermanence of the place mimics our very human existence; its constant change, its fragility. An inescapable ambiguity and instability is perceivable both on a social and urban scale, and it permeates our navigation of this city; this sense that it belongs to all of us, none of us, and will not remain as it is in our memories. 

Over time, the way I edited the photographs changed and so did my approach to this project. As this theme of temporality began to feel antiquated and over-examined, I began to feel less temporary too. I began to see that all of our time is limited, that all of our time is limited, all of our connections to people, spaces, feelings; finite. At the end of the day, this is home. For now and in this specific moment, I belong to this place.

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