“A Bigger Room” portrays the symbolic aspect of violence that migrant domestic workers face in Lebanon, particularly in the realm of the private, where the worker is usually kept at arm’s length.
The project focuses on Priya who worked at our family home for over twenty years and who I consider to be my second mother. The project title not only refers to the domestic workers’ physical rooms inside the house (narrow spaces that never exceed eight squared meters), but also to the emotional place they inhabit within the family unit.
I ask Priya, my family, and myself, if Priya is considered to fully be a part of the family. Despite our physical and emotional proximity, there will always remain some barriers. As long as the Kafala system is in place and as long as Lebanese society is as prejudiced, every single migrant worker entering Lebanon will enter on the basis that they are second-hand citizen, with no protection whatsoever of their rights. If their experience in Lebanon only depends on their employer’s background and personality, it is from the outset a problem. As long as employers are sponsors, power inequalities will remain. Priya ended up in a “good” family. What if she hadn’t? And how long do we need to live together for her to acquire a bigger room?
Born in 1998, Manu Ferneini is a Lebanese documentary photographer living in Beirut. While her body of work is eclectic, her photographs revolve around notions of social identity, whether real, constructed, or imposed. She is particularly interested in the power of color and light and their ability to impact the viewer’s reading of the image.