Anita van der Krol was one of the first expatriate residents of Jebel Ali Village in the late 1970s. She accompanied her dredging-engineer husband to the UAE in the days when the current metropolis was still only a vision. As an expat housewife in Jumeirah, she had a unique insight into the local lifestyle and daily customs. Her photographs are now a rare and valuable insight into the lifestyle of yesteryear.
Dubai of Yesteryear
We met Anita when she visited the UAE back in December 2019. She shared with us her stories of life back then and gave us access to some of her photographs. We were particularly interested in those showing the dress habits of the time.
Anita’s time in the UAE, from 1975 to 1980, coincides with the last years of the Bedouin people still living freely in the desert. Soon after they settled in neighbourhoods as the city grew and the desert adjacent to the coast and creek became part of modern development.
The images in this post were part of a solo exhibition Anita had at the Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai in 2014. More images can be seen on her website and on the gallery’s website. Her images will soon become part of a permanent exhibition at the Shindagha Museum in Bur Dubai.
Anita received her first camera as a ten-year-old and has been a hobby photographer for most of her life. “When we lived here, I was a housewife with two young children. We walked in the villages outside Dubai where we ‘talked’ with the local women and children. We communicated by hand gestures as we could not understand each other’s language, but we still had many conversations and the kids played together. It was during these interactions when they allowed me to photograph them.”
The charm of Anita’s images lies in the fact that she never approached it as a professional photographer, but as a visitor, a hobby photographer and as an interested bystander, yet her years of experience and interest in photography ensured a professional quality that made it stood the test of time.
The years in between
When Anita moved back to The Netherlands in 1980, her images were stored in the attic and forgotten about as she continued with everyday life, raising her kids and pursuing a career. It was almost forty years later, seeing the rapid development and changes taking place in the UAE that she realised the value of her amateur images. That is when she retrieved them from the attic, digitised and cleaned them and created her website. The rest, as they say, is history.
Some images show pieces of clothes and jewellery that are not being worn anymore and that is very hard to find today. The women in these images are generally from the poorer, working-class part of the community who did not necessarily understand the value of their culture at the time and did not preserve these items.
Anita’s images show women going about everyday business, going to market, attending weddings, and caring for children. Browsing through the images, Dr Reem was able to explain some of the customs to Anita, while Anita was able to explain the place and time of the images to us. Together they were able to fill gaps in each other’s understanding of the local customs and dress, creating a fuller picture and a deeper understanding for both of them. A wonderful meeting of minds and passion.
For us at the Zay Initiative, these images are a valuable record to help us understand the customs, the outfits and the situations in which these items were used in everyday life. We are grateful to Anita for sharing her treasures with us.
During her visit, Anita presented us with a Thawb nasil of Bahraini heritage which she bought in the souks in Dubai in 1978. This is a formal garment usually worn over a matching kandurah. A valuable addition to The Zay Collection.
*We thank Anita for allowing us to reproduce some of her images. All copyright belongs to Anita van der Krol.