From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf

Artist: Ashok Sukumaran, Sanjay Bhangar, Shaina Anand, Zinnia Ambapardiwala
Location: Sharjah, UAE
Year: 2011
Researcher: Nahla Al Tabbaa

From 2009, studio CAMP started to take a deep interest in the maritime identity of Sharjah, through its boats and sailors constantly arriving and leaving the historic port town, today a major industrial terminal in the UAE. They discovered that these sailors hailed from Gujarat, Southern Iran and Pakistan mostly. Through the nature of their trade, they would habitually forge the shores of the UAE, Iran, India and Somalia, carrying the effects of their stark cultural similarities and differences between each port. Through meeting these sailors, tracing their trade routes and ship contents, CAMP unfolds the intimacy and global discourse of every journey these ships and sailors embark on.

‘From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf’ is a film that collects footage of interviews, phone videos, songs, and the journeys of a single ship built in Gujarat. Through this film, one discovers how a single construction built by a dozen people in one country can pass through multiple languages, cultures, legal frameworks, winds and storms, pirate waters, sanctions, carrying the fears, joys and emotions of the sailors aboard them.

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This film follows the journey of one boat called ‘Sabir Piya’ (the Patient One) which was built in Gujarat in 1999 with an engine installed in Dubai. It made its first trip in 2002 carrying sugar, and was then responsible for delivering donations to Somalia from Kuwait, followed by a charter to carry goats to Dubai. Other cargo entailed a single ostrich, the odd limousine, coal, all highlighting the distinctly unique and infinitely varied purposes, and limitless identities, of the vessel and its sailors onboard. In 2009, ‘Sabir Piya’ caught fire on the Sharjah creek, sunk, surviving as debris and timber which was subsequently rebuilt in Gujarat, bigger and stronger.

Information about ‘Sabir Piya’s’ was collected through official port records and the stories of its sailors. The dialogue, friendship and exchanges between CAMP and the sailors draws on a culture that is hidden from society, and distinctly separated. Interesting facts emerge, such as the sailors’ and traders’ ability to speak multiple languages, a talent that is often cited as a route to the top of many of society’s most competitive career ladders. One such linguistic moment highlights their ability to converse in Hindi or Urdu, which shares the same spoken form, and is the commonly used port language despite not being the native language of where the port is located.

The film was first released during Sharjah Biennial 11 and shown as a projection on public walls. In its success, its daily audience habitually included a number of sailors, who displayed a deep emotional attachment to what they watched, as they mingled with visitors to the biennial, curators, families and all elements of society that they would usually have never shared such a space with. It provided a collective forum for a deeper understanding of cultural exchange on international waters. Its success can be seen in the fact that it was screened for three months, and inviting further collaboration to happen.

CAMP were involved in conducting 4 years of research on mapping out the itineraries of Dhows (shipping boats) leaving and entering Sharjah’s (UAE) port to and from India, Pakistan, Somalia and other ports.

Through this research audiences are invited to look at these voyages in a very different light. It is on these boats that cultures, languages, stories, and objects are exchanged.

After collecting this research, a film was made following the lives of these sailors, which posed an intimate celebration of a labor community that is often external to mainstream settled society. These sailors stayed longer in Sharjah as they watched ‘From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf’ repetitively, which was seminally projected in several public spaces in the town.

Research and story collecting was conducted over the course of 4 years and resulted in two other projects titled Wharfage and Radio Meena.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency