The Magnum Foundation commissioned these images of Dubai residents hit hardest by the pandemic
Photo essay | Mohamed Somji | 5 April 2021
Last September, the Magnum Foundation commissioned me to produce a body of work that looked at the impact of the pandemic on Dubai’s population. I encountered a number of people across different nationalities and socio-economic classes who had been severely impacted by the situation.
It goes without saying that most of those adversely affected were already on the margins of society pre-Covid. The onset of the virus exacerbated their precarity. Since part of this project was going to be syndicated by the Washington Post, I was also mindful of showing a cross-section of Dubai’s population rather than just confining the story to the worst affected. Despite potentially being compelling, such imagery, devoid of context and nuance, reinforces the clichés associated with Dubai and the Gulf at large.
This photo essay presents the images that were not selected for the Washington Post piece. In subsequent contributions to this website over the coming months, I will present new images featuring the same people I had initially profiled, providing an update of their progress.
A public park in Deira became a refuge to a number of people who found themselves stranded when the city went into lockdown and air travel was halted. Many were on visit visas looking for work, with already limited resources. As these resources dwindled, they took to this park for shelter, and to earn money washing cars.
Davinder Singh lost his job at the height of the pandemic and turned to Bhangra, a popular dance form in his native Punjab. During lockdown and after, he would have regular meet-ups to record TikTok videos, offer Zoom classes, and, as the city opened up, started teaching Bhangra weekly in a dance studio.