A Glance on the WorldNICK HANNES
Garden of Delight

Dubai is one of the seven sheikhdoms that form the United Arab Emirates. Until the 1960s, this inhospitable stretch of desert on the Persian Gulf had no electricity or running water. It was the discovery of oil in 1966 that triggered the wave of modernisation that was to drastically change the face of the city. In record time, Dubai transformed itself into a global city where trade, real estate and tourism became its most important economic sectors. The population increased from 183,000 inhabitants in 1975 to nearly three million today. Of these, only 10% are native Emirati, the rest being expats who reside and work in the Emirate temporarily. 75% of the population is male.

Nick Hannes travelled to Dubai five times between 2016 and 2018, considering the city as a case study in breakneck, market-driven urbanisation; the ultimate playground for globalisation and capitalism without limits or ethics; or, to put it another way, Dubai is an out-of-control entertainment hall, meticulously designed to serve unbridled consumerism.   

Hannes’ photographs function as a razor-sharp knife that uses humour and irony to slice through this metropolis of the future. What remains, in the words of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, is a “Generic City”, without history, personality or identity; a city that is “indifferent to its inhabitants”. To Hannes, it is a place where “human activities are reduced to their economic value”.

The Netherlandish painter, Hieronymous Bosch, painted his iconic triptych Garden of Earthly Delights about 500 years ago. The central panel depicts a fake paradise, right before the Fall. It is a dystopian image to which Hannes – from his outsider position – likes to refer. He reveals Dubai as a Theatrum Mundi, at times with dismay, at others with dumbfoundedness, but always with a desire to understand. Is a model like Dubai economically and socially sustainable – or are we still, 500 years after Bosch, living in the same ill-omened theatre of the world?

Nick Hannes was born in Antwerp in 1974. He lives in Ranst, Belgium. 

He graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent in 1997. For the next eight years he worked as a photojournalist. In 2006 he quit doing press assignments, in order to fully concentrate on his own documentary projects. Most of his personal work has a strong political and social component. 

In 2006 he left for a one year round trip by bus and train through the former Soviet Union, carrying just a backpack and a camera. This adventure resulted in his first book, Red Journey (Lannoo Publishers, 2009), that deals with the transitional phase in post-communist society. Red Journey laid the foundation for his photographic approach, in which irony, ambiguity and visual metaphors play prominent roles. In 2010 he started Mediterranean. The Continuity of Man (Hannibal Publishers, 2014), an epic project that involved twenty trips to 21 Mediterranean countries over four years of time. This series juxtaposes parallel realities and paradoxes of the Mediterranean region, focusing on various contemporary issues such as mass-tourism, urbanization, migration, conflict and crises of various kinds. His third book is titled Garden of Delight (Hannibal/Editions André Frère, 2018). This series was awarded the Magnum photography Award in 2017, the Zeiss Photography Award and Days Japan Special Jury Prize in 2018. 

His work was exhibited at the Thessaloniki Biennial for Contemporary Art, The Museum of Photography FoMu (Antwerp), Bozar Centre for Fine Arts (Brussels), Flanders Center (Osaka, Japan), Breda Photo (Breda, NL), Visa pour l’Image (Perpignan), Head On (Sydney), Triennial of Photography Hamburg, among others. His photographs have been published in Paris Match, Stern, El Pais Semenal, Geo, Vanity Fair, Internazionale, Vrij Nederland, among others.  

Since 2008 he has been teaching documentary photography at KASK/The School of Arts in Ghent (B). He is represented by Panos Pictures (London) and Black Eye Gallery (Sydney).