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A group of pathans shuffle behind the ornate peach coloured gates, brazenly embellished with delivery stickers from different cooking gas companies. I’m standing outside, sipping on a styrofoam cup with rainbow tea. The mild aroma of lentil soup rises into the air. Breakfast is served: the brief clatter of utensils follows a loud, boisterous meal.
The latches come off: a deep, metallic thunder and the gates swing open gently. Six burly, middle-aged men, clad in salwar kameezes in shades of khaki and brown, silently march out from the premises. They had crossed a threshold.
Another pair of gates, rattling ones, is used as a goal post by a group of young Emirati boys. The noise from them echoes in the otherwise silent suburb of Rashidiya.
In Mankhool, a little girl timidly awaits her school bus in the refuge of a colossal wooden gateway.
I wonder why a stuffed toy tiger guards the gates of an emerald green house with Victorian lamps.
These are the sorts of sights and stories that are concealed by the opaque doorways found in some of Dubai’s older residential and suburban areas.
Doors have served various purposes throughout history. They have facilitated entries and exits, provided protection and shelter, served as deterrents to entire armies during wars, and also been a welcome sight to the weary, ravaged traveler. Big, small, huge, ornate, and often very beautiful – these gateways have represented class, culture and the human psyche for time immemorial.
Written in sand is an effort to represent various aspects of places in the Middle East from a photographic perspective. We are in constant search of objects that can grow into an ethnographic body of work that will hopefully contribute to a better understanding of our region. These gates and doorways are one such interesting artefact.
Apart from their obvious past functionality, in an age when door numbers were seldom displayed or referred to, the gates proved to be great visual aids in areas with identical architecture.
Rendered in various colours, patterns, styles and insignia, their facades were, and still are, reflective of those who reside behind them, providing a unique identity for every household.
From speaking to a few older members of these communities, we have come to understand that every area used to have a handful of gate makers. Apparently, the norm was to never create two different gates of identical design and colour within the same community.
The documentation of these doors is an on-going project, with a growing collection of different gateways and their stories. Presently, we are just scratching the surface and believe that there is a lot more to discover. We have started in the UAE; the next phase will explore the northern emirates and other Gulf countries such as Oman and Qatar.