Substations by Sinisa Vlajkovic and Mohamed Somji

A new photography exhibition called Substations by Sinisa Vlajkovic and Mohamed Somji portraying some of the last remaining diesel stations in the United Arab Emirates will open next week at The Pavilion Downtown Dubai.  

Based on the few photos I've seen so far, I am really looking forward to this exhibition.

Substations is an intimate reflection on the character and experience of community in Dubai and the UAE; in the background hover questions of invisible economies, urbanity versus wilderness, and changing social values. Sinisa Vlajkovic and Mohamed Somji’s direct, minimalist approach yields rich emotional texture on a decidedly human scale. Illuminating the outskirts of Dubai like flickering candles, their subjects – small diesel stations – provide a respite from the city's dizzying lights and imported glamour. 

Resembling the first stations that were built several decades ago and started the region's diesel trade, these isolated stations are a distinct contrast to the Middle East’s high-profile petroleum sector. It is an exhibit of vernacular architecture: constructed with scavenged materials, they are maintained with simple amenities and local hospitality. They challenge the city’s impersonal modernization with reassurance that there is always time for tea and an armchair conversation.

With its horizon of superlative heights and conspicuous wealth, Dubai is designed to eclipse everything else. Yet the mega-watt metropolis is newly-minted by history's measure, forged into the desert wilderness with an architectural frenzy. To gaze beyond the city limits is to remember that it has not always been so. It is here, at the geographic seams of Dubai's unbridled development, that Vlajkovic and Somji have paused to document the quiet moments of a vestigial culture. They photographed by night on the less-traveled roads, and listened to the stories behind each unique diesel station. 

Unlike their urban equivalents - sprawling corporate conglomerates that function as roadside cathedrals of consumer capitalism, complete with fast food restaurants, convenience stores, promotions, prizes, and uniformed staff - these stations are individually owned and frequented by truckers. Makeshift structures of found objects, colourful neons, and strings of festive lights, the diesel stations are some of the last remaining examples of a culture around which the Middle East evolved.


Exhibition details

Date: Opening is on 15th September at 7.30pm. Exhibition will run till 30th October 2011.

Venue: The Pavilion Downtown Dubai, Emaar Boulevard (location map)

Phone: +971 4 447 7025

Substations website