The Griffin and the Lion (chapter 1)

Part 1: Orange and Blue

The griffin and the lion are staring at one another, and their wide mouths give me an idea of hostility and aggressiveness. Their bronze faces still present some golden reflex, symbol of an adventurous past and a mythological nature. The two opponents, facing themselves once again behind the glass of a museum, indeed reflect two different worlds, two different ideas of power and strength, but also have more in common than the alloy they are made of. Their skin presents the same drawings and cravings, their mouths are wide open just in the same way, their size, also the sound their produce when winds passes through the internal cavities of the metal: all these are clues that they might be drafted by the very same creator. Two monsters, two rivals share indeed the same origins and, when they meet, they finally recollect and produce the sense that they are two tokens of the same identity.

As I move from one display case to another, I can see other artifacts of the same age. I move following a chronological order, until my visit to the Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum comes to an end. The Museum, open to the public since November 2017 is one of the last architectural masterpieces that have enriched the cultural offer of city of Abu Dhabi. A result of the cooperation of the United Arab Emirates government with the French authorities of Louvre in Paris, the main aim of the project is to widen the horizon of the Arab cultural scenario by providing to inhabitants and tourists a cultural experience capable of embracing the whole history of Humanity. It is indeed a humanist fashion that you can feel passing through the halls of the main exhibition in the centre, and it actually allows to see “humanity in a new light”. As a European tourist, walking under the huge dome built by the French architect Jean Nouvel, I really had a perception of what contemporary humanity looks like: the rain of light pending from the ceiling of the dome, that resembles the top of a palm tree and therefore is open to the penetration of sunlight, hit different faces from time to time, and I really felt like a tiny part of the world, surrounded by masses of Asian visitors that finally brought me to understand how much my idea of the world could be Eurocentric.

Being a powerful symbol and an energy catalyzer, the Louvre Abu Dhabi stands also to represent the most hidden and the darkest side of the Emirati life. Different investigations, always denied and refused by the Abu Dhabi government, have revealed the conditions of living of the construction workers that have been employed in the months preceding November 2017. We have no official estimates, but most reliable sources say that we can count on revealing that several workers have lost their life because of the long-lasting work under heavy sunlight and at high temperatures and accidents on the workplace have frequently occurred.

Yet nowadays, the millions of immigrant workers who stay in Abu Dhabi to make a living have no possibility to organize themselves through unions and interest groups. They make up a huge human mass, an industrial capital that is absolutely necessary for the Emirates to have a high growth rate granted. Most of the work-force which is imported in the Emirates is recruited and retained through the legal instrument of Kafala, a sponsorship system that grants employers a huge power over their employees. The most striking aspect of the UAE as a society is the way through which ethnic integration has reached and advanced stadium, without dismantling power structures and traditional authorities at the same time. The UAE are possibly the most illuminated and forward looking absolute monarchy on the face of earth, a striking result that also questions the way we are used to think about our democracies and their presumed efficiency.

I can remember well my long stay in a taxi I had bumped into to cover the approximately 120 kms journey from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. It took me more than 1h and a half to get out of the crowded streets of Dubai Marina, and from behind of the glass-screen I could see huge columns of blue-dressed workers passing along on the side of the high-way, aimed at reaching the big TATA buses that would have brought them to the residential areas in the surroundings of the city. Many of the them were holding orange helmets in their hands. They were the richer ones, possibly those who had been working in the Emirates for the longest period and could afford to buy a helmet. I opened the window and bent out, trying to see where that huge line started. I could not understand, the road was too trafficked and the voices of the workers chatting around mixed with the noise of the engines and the sunset sing of the muezzin, a strange Middle-Eastern mix of records that today reminds me of a Kendrick Lamar track. They were walking in a relaxed way and gave me a sense of relief. They all wore long mustache, like the peoples of South Asia are used to. First thing I learned, that day in front of the orange and blue crowd, was that the Emirates are an Arab country as much as they also host, in fact, a remarkable portion of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Cultures are here mixed in a way we would never think in Europe, and the struggle for survival gathers all those who come here to send what they earn back home.

(to be continued)

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