Manu Ferneini

A Bigger Room

This on-going project focuses on the symbolic aspect of violence faced by female migrant domestic workers, or housemaids, in Lebanon, through the story of three different protagonists: Priya, Emily, and Rebecca. In a country of just 5 million people, there are approximately 300 000 domestic workers coming from a diverse range of countries such as Sri Lanka, Philippines and Ethiopia to work, and live in a Lebanese household. While it is common in Lebanon to hear of abuse-focused stories, this project focuses on the a priori mundane elements of everyday life that, nonetheless, keep the black, foreign body at arm’s length. 

The title,  "A Bigger Room" not only refers to the domestic workers’ physical rooms inside the house (these very narrow spaces never exceed 8 squared meters), but to the emotional place they inhabit within the family unit. I have chosen to focus on the threshold between housework and intimacy in a context where both inevitably intertwine and, on a larger scale, on the thin line between the women’s visibility and invisibility within Lebanese society. 

When convenient to the employers, the housemaids are seen: they walk the dog along the neighborhood streets, take care of the white middle-class child of the family on a sunny beach-day, or run an errand at the grocery store. Otherwise, they remain where we are "used" to seeing them: in the house, in their uniforms, in their tamed selves. 

This story stems from a personal feeling of unease: Priya, from Sri Lanka, has been working at my family house in Beirut for twenty-one years now: she is a part of the family, but not entirely. 

Although her journey is not necessarily representative of the general experience of a domestic worker in Lebanon, she remains the primary motif of this photographic endeavor: through her, I aspire to reveal the power dynamics at stake within this type of employement.

On the left: Rebecca, a Nigerian housemaid, works in the kitchen. On the right: Emile, her employer, watches television.

LCC Degree Shows 2019 

LCC Degree Shows 2019

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