Travel / Cultural: Photograph symbolism essay... (About the photograph below with the Burj Khalifa and the Palm decorated with fairy lights).
Considering that the Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world, it shouldn’t be hard to miss. Nevertheless, at first glance, you might not see the it in the photograph above -and instead mistake it for more fairy lights on a decorated palm tree... Why did I photograph the Burj Khalifa and a fairy-lit palm tree together -and why are they almost merging?
Photographing the palm and Burj Khalifa together symbolises, for me, the huge amount of progress and modernisation that has occurred in Dubai since my childhood. When I was a child in the 80's in Dubai, most buildings were low rise -not significantly higher than palm trees and sometimes lower (most people I knew lived in bungalows or perhaps houses with one upper floor) -meanwhile the Burj Khalifa, as the tallest building in the world, is the ultimate contrast! (When I was growing up the Trade Centre was the tallest building around at 149 metres -now, however, it is dwarfed by numerous modern high rises -much as this palm tree is by the Burj Khalifa).
Almost merging the palm and Burj Khalifa also felt appropriate as old local customs and traditions, (as symbolised by the palm tree), are still valued and often merge with new modern ways of living in Dubai (as symbolised by the Burj Khalifa). -Appropriately this statement may be seen to be backed up by the fact that the area around the modern Burj Khalifa is surrounded by traditional lit-up palm trees. (Since 'Burj' means 'tower' in arabic, even the name 'Burj Khalifa' reminds me of the original wind towers that locals lived in -and continues the theme of tradition merging with modernity. For those of you unfamiliar with traditional wind-towers, there is one depicted in my photograph below).
Palm trees were of great importance to original inhabitants of Dubai -that their traditional value has been remembered and revered is perhaps indicated by the fact that two architectural trophies, iconic islands -the Palm Jumeirah and the Palm Jebal Ali -have been created in the shape of palm trees. Obviously the shape of a palm tree lends itself perfectly to providing residents and guests of the islands with maximum beach space and so, no doubt, practicalities influenced this decision. Nevertheless the palm tree is an important traditional symbol -and this also no doubt heavily influenced the agreement to design the state-of-the-art islands in the shape of palm trees.
Both the Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa are symbols of celebration -indeed they are focal-points for fireworks at large celebrations like New Year's, National Day, and so on -(it's hard to say which place has the more dazzling firework displays)! The decorated palm trees are also a symbol of celebration. Indeed, when I was a child growing up in Dubai in the 80's, Palm trees lit with fairy lights were most often found at celebrations -weddings, New Year's parties, etc. (They still are today although, nowadays, decorated palm trees are much more common and can also be found all over Dubai just to enhance the visual appeal of areas). I've therefore merged the decorated palm and Burj Khalifa since they both symbolise the same thing -celebration. Indeed, as an architectural trophy, and the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa is itself a cause of celebration and pride. Both are therefore united by a theme of celebration.
As I write this I am sitting in a cafe in Dubai from which I can see both decorated palm trees and the similar fairy lights of nearby Christmas trees. This also reminds me of the inclusiveness, and yet diversity, of Dubai -numerous nationalities and cultures live here and merge together to make a city. Customs co-exist and often merge -much as the palm and Burj Khalifa do in this photograph. Fairy-lit Christmas trees are, for many, as much a symbol of celebration as fairy-lit palm trees. Many who celebrate Eid still enjoy celebrating Christmas -even if they don't believe in the religious aspects of it -and vice versa. Customs and traditions often mix and merge within individuals and communities, just as traditional and modern customs co-exist.
Dubai is a city of contrasts and contradictions, inclusive and exclusive -it's a city in which cultures and nationalities can remain distinct, (even occasionally clash), but generally merge together without the conflict that this causes in many places. (I'm writing this in 2015). Similarly local traditions and modernity may seem at times to clash, but this doesn't seem to affect many people and, in my opinion, they merge pretty successfully on the whole. It's therefore appropriate that both the palm tree and Burj Khalifa, both symbols of Dubai, are lit with the same colour scheme. This also explains why I positioned them so as to appear to merge -not entirely but pretty much. By almost-merging they simultaneously provide a contrast to one another thus reflecting the contradictions in Dubai -as well as the harmony and inclusiveness Dubai also has to offer.
Traditional 'wind tower'.
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