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UAE: Italian diaspora starts art project to capture country’s ‘invisible’ residents – News

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Through his project, Marco Fraschetti explains that he wants to help the country’s “carton workers” who carry boxes on bicycles adopt safer practices


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published: Sunday, March 5, 2023 at 9:17 am

They are everywhere, but they are “invisible”. You’ll see them balancing flattened cardboard boxes, like the ones you throw away after taking apart your TV set, stacked high and tied to the on the bike. However, an Italian expatriate did notice them and decided to put them in the spotlight.

“You can see them on the same road next to luxury cars, taking the same route, but to a different destination. I gave them the visibility they deserve.” This is the description of the “Cartonman Project”, an Instagram page started by Marco Fraschetti, He is a performing arts consultant, photographer and musician who has lived in the UAE for the past 20 years.

In an interview with Khaleej Times, Marco said that he looks around and sometimes notices new things and perspectives in the city. At some point, he started noticing “carton workers” moving boxes on their bikes and started taking pictures of them. “I asked myself: where do they sell it? How does it work? I realized, maybe because I ride a motorcycle, how dangerous the streets must be for them. I noticed that sometimes their cases could fall into the on the ground, and sometimes they drive very close to the car,” he said.

At one point, Marco said he realized no one was looking or noticing them, so he started posting them under the hashtag #cartonmanproject. He recently decided to create a dedicated Instagram page for the project, not knowing where that would lead.

The response from the art world has been impressive, said Marco, who said he initially only reached out to artists he knew so they could follow his page. “What I didn’t expect was that many of them wrote back asking how they could contribute to the project and what they could do,” he said, adding that some of them contributed their photos and other artistic creations with the relevant to his subject.

“They told me they’d send the page to all their friends. You rarely see artists get together for social causes. Usually it’s for purely artistic projects,” says Marco.

“Carton men” exist in Italy as in other countries, but here the contrast is stronger when you see them against the backdrop of the city behind them. “The contrasts and gaps between social classes are not as stark as they are here,” he said.

Marco uses words like dignity, humanity, sustainability and resilience when talking about his projects. However, the word he uses the most is empathy. “I want to develop empathy so that when people see them, they look at them differently.”


Pictured: Marco Fraschetti

But what exactly is he hoping to achieve with this page? He wanted to help “carton workers” take safety measures. His next step is to talk to the “cartonmen” and interview them on camera to learn more about what they do and maybe even follow them throughout the day. “On a personal level, I also want to be practical, so I’m going to send them visibility jackets with light strips so they’re safe on the road at night,” he said.

Ultimately, however, he plans to curate an exhibit later this year to raise awareness of the men and to give the public a taste of the work they did. “This is the year of sustainability in the UAE and the work these guys have done meets all the requirements. They are recycling the boxes but also using 100% green shipping,” he said.

Marco said the exhibition would not take place in a high-end gallery, but he is currently looking for a warehouse in an industrial area close to the “carton workers” living there. “I want people to see who they are and where they live. I want to tell their stories from where they live,” he said, adding that the exhibition will be open to the art community, who are welcome to participate in related art projects.

“I’m trying to help them, so I’m looking for the best way to do it,” he said, adding, “If they’re safe, we’re safe. It helps us all help them.” He said, coming to the exhibit In the end, he believes people will think differently about the “Carton People”; they’ll ask themselves who they are, what they do, and “they might even say hello to them.”

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