Jalal BinThaneya: Industrial landscapes bring an awareness of oil

“Are we going to celebrate the last barrel of oil that leaves the region or are we going to despair?” Jalal BinThaneya’s photography relentlessly poses this same question from conflicting angles as he trawls cannibalized industrial landscapes of the United Arab Emirates for answers.

Classifying himself as “an accidental artist,” BinThaneya fell into a serious practice entirely by chance when in 2013, he looked on as workers began to unceremoniously demolish the historic watchtower on Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port. Built in the 1970’s as the export of petroleum reserves supercharged Dubai towards globalization, Sheikh Rashid famously held meetings in the stronghold during the 90’s. At first, BinThaneya stood by with hands clasped together as though paying his respects to the dead. “That’s a piece of our history just gone” he thought, fiddling with the iPhone in his starched white pocket. “So I began snapping hundreds of photos.”

He has gone on shooting to understand—and even at times— to provoke ever since. ‘Industry,’ an ongoing series, gains rare access to, examines and contrasts obsolete and active refineries, pipelines, and oilfields. By making dormant industrial ghosts his subjects, Bin Thaneya aims to jolt viewers into an awareness of how oil is synonymous with material culture, added to everything from nail polish to aspirin, water pipes, and asphalt roads. Like an irrepressible sugar craving he says, “we are hungry for it but don’t realize. Everything would come to a standstill without industry. We can’t live without it.”

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Image Credit: Ahmed Mater, Courtyard of Paradise, 2012. From the Deserts of Pharan series. Courtesy of the artist and Tribe

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