Farah Al Qasimi

For a more recent CV or bio please visit the artist's website, farahalqasimi.com/

Farah Al Qasimi (b.1991, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; lives and works in Brooklyn and Dubai) works in photography, video, and performance. Her recent commission with Public Art Fund, Back and Forth Disco, was on view on 100 bus shelters around New York City in 2019 and 2020. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai; the San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco; the CCS Bard Galleries at the Hessel Museum of Art, New York; Helena Anrather, New York; The Third Line, Dubai; The List Visual Arts Center at MIT, Cambridge; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto; and the Houston Center for Photography, Houston. Al Qasimi received her MFA from the Yale School of Art. She has participated in residencies at the Delfina Foundation, London; the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine; and is a recipient of the New York NADA Artadia Prize, the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship, and this year's Capricious Photo Award. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, UAE; Tate Modern, London; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography, Amsterdam; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick; and NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, New York.

Circa 2021
BirthplaceAbu Dhabi
Cultural HeritageEmirati American
Light Work RelationshipArtist-in-Residence, 2021
Light Work PublicationsContact Sheet 212




Insofar as Farah Al Qasimi is interested in objects, it is a sense of handling—touching, feeling, fondling, crumpling—that animates her sprawling, cornucopic displays. Al Qasimi foregoes a static focus on individual items. Instead, her material constellations reveal networks of tactile exchange by depicting traces of habitual use. Soap bars’ asymmetrical contours index their travel across variously curved silhouettes (Green Soap in Blue Bathroom, 2020). Personal effects are strewn across the tops of vanities—the foot soldiers of self-fashioning—next to the day’s detritus: empty water bottles, gum, wrappers (Marwa Braiding Marah’s Hair, 2019). Bedspreads and couches sink and swell with haunted impressions of those who use them, unwittingly cataloguing their moments of respite (Baba at Home, 2017). These subtle indents of encounter coalesce into dramatized visions of everyday life that render even the most mundane motion, friction, or slouch strange and fantastic.

     We might construe Al Qasimi’s clear fascination with private domestic space as an identitarian way of articulating subjectivity through a spectacular array of ciphers. This would misread Al Qasimi’s beguilingly under-determined scenography. Take Noora’s Room (2020), for example, which was part of Funhouse, the artist’s recent exhibition at Helena Anrather in New York City. Shot in Abu Dhabi, the photograph features a young woman—Anood—straightening her hair. She sits in front of four mirrors that refract her face at multiple angles. This multiplication characterizes readying oneself as an embryonic process in which ontological instability ripples into an array of phantasmagoric possibility. For Anood specifically, what informs and inflects this moment of becoming is the room’s Anglo-Franco accent, comprising Princess Diana barbie dolls, a Victorian-style portrait above the bed, and the baroque finery of Noora’s drapes and wallpaper. While these objects denote a certain Western orientation—or at least its lingering encroachment—their calculable effect on Anood and Noora remains unclear. We can equally imagine them as relics of childhood fascination, fantasies of feminine gentility, or post-colonial disidentifications. Indeed, fractured between body and image, looking every which way at once, Noora’s impossibly multiple posture prevents characterization at the level of physical presence, let alone psychosocial disposition. In capturing the unsteady relationship between the room’s iconography and its inhabitants, Al Qasimi goes beyond an understanding of possessions as atomized bits of their owners that aggregate piece-meal in a linear process of identity construction. Rather, the objects she highlights become part of the subject’s interminable negotiation between points of affiliation and detachment. Far from legibly articulating Emirati womanhood, her subjects’ or her own, Al Qasimi makes identity more problematic, a pinball, of sorts, bouncing off arrangements of trinkets and taffeta.

     This doesn’t suggest that the elements in Al Qasimi’s photographs are flatly homogenized as semiotic implements. Even as she consistently places the high and low, the talismanic and banal alongside each other, the space between them is often uncomfortably tense. She accomplishes this in multiple works from Funhouse by employing commonplace interior façades as backgrounds for objects charged with a stronger affective resonance. In Bloody Palm (2019), the patterned sleeve covering an outstretched arm and the model’s striped, floral nail art (which themselves bear a certain resemblance), collectively echo and electrify the brown and white wallpaper’s vaguely psychedelic motifs. From domestic to sartorial to epidermal ornament, Al Qasimi tracks the animation of pattern as a process of an increasingly tactile intimacy.

     Similarly, Drying Rack (2018) juxtaposes a still-life of tender maintenance—towels, sheets, and clothing carefully arranged to avoid wrinkling, forming a collage of embellished fabric—against a bare and featureless pale green wall. Al Qasimi showcases the ways that materials of markedly disparate value may cohabitate, but she also documents capitalism’s bizarre conflation of the mass produced and particular. For instance, she pays particular attention to the faux fabrics lining the vehicle’s interior in Trompe l’oeil Car Seat (2019) and the prosthetic architecture in G Climbing a Prop Warehouse Façade (2018). These uncanny fabrications fail to properly mimic the lustrous density and radiating gestalt that other materials exhibit in Al Qasimi’s work. They also reveal the disorienting effects of multinational capital’s tendency to condense design and architecture into images and simulations. Indeed, the dizzying reflections lining the walkway in Madinat Staircase (2019) hammer home Al Qasimi’s concern with the glittering illusions that commodification-run-rampant inevitably produces.

     Al Qasimi identifies and works within mazes of subjective machination and free-flowing capital. Her photography reveals a process of situating oneself, of grasping for anchors within fields of mirage and artifice. In this way, her photography feels akin to mapping, to identifying objects as footholds for wading through the daily barrage of funhouse distortion.

Blake Oetting

Blake Oetting is a writer based in New York City. He is currently a PhD candidate at New York University where he studies modern and contemporary art. 

Farah Al Qasimi lives in Brooklyn, NY, and completed her residency at Light Work in April 2021. www.farahalqasimi.com