Visit to the Metropolis Exhibition at the East Wing, Dubai

I spent the day with Nick Hannes (the Belgian documentary photographer) taking him around a few places in Dubai for his project a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting experience in getting to know a little bit more about the industry and how he goes about his work. Nick had mentioned an interesting exhibition at the East Wing Gallery in Dubai called Metropolis by Martin Roemers which I thought I would pop along to see last week.

Martin’s project provides an insight into the world’s megacities (defined as urban areas with more than 10 million inhabitants) and the huge infrastructures needed to keep these cities running. The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050, nearly six billion people (75% of the world’s population) are expected to be living in cities which is crazy given that a century ago this percentage was only 13%. The images below are taken from an article called “Bright Lights, Big Cities” published in The Economist on 4th February 2015 (available at and show the extent of the growth in global city populations since 1950.

Global City Populations in 1950


Global City Populations in 1990


United Nations Predicted Global City Populations in 2050


Martin’s exhibition had some fantastic images of some of the megacities of the world showing the movement and energy in the cities as the population goes about its daily business such as the one below in Jakarta.


Roemers. 2012. Jakarta. PDN Photo of the Day available at [accessed 10/10/16].

The exhibition made me think about the growth of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Whilst there are no megacities within the U.A.E., the country has seen exponential growth in its population as shown by the charts below from the “Worldometers” website which uses data from the United Nations.


It is remarkable to think that there were less than 80,00o people inhabiting the U.A.E. as recently as 1955 and that there are now more than, according to the latest United Nations estimates, over 9.2 million people living within the U.A.E.

Of course, a growth rate of that nature has to be fuelled mainly by migration and this is shown by the make up of the population of the U.A.E. which is comprised of approximately 88% expatriates according to 2013 data from the United Nations. At that time, this was the highest percentage globally other than in the Vatican. The nationality of expatriates is heavily skewed towards South Asian countries but there is a huge amount of diversity with representation from many different nations as shown from the analysis below from “BQ Magazine“.


As part of my project I would like to explore this further to understand more about the motivations of expatriates who make this their home. Why do people leave their country? Why do they move to the U.A.E.? How do they integrate or not within society or other cultures here? What sub-cultures are there within the U.A.E. – for example, are there distinct sub-communities of different nationalities such as a little India or little Philippines? How do they cope being away from family and friends? How do expatriates generally generally go about life in their home away from home?