Falcons, butterflies resting on a slice of orange, and self-portraits underneath a mango tree hanging with lusciously full ripe fruit are some of the subjects in the photographic works of New York-based Emirati artist Farah Al Qasimi.
No hazy shadows or muted colors here, but subjects captured with such sharp focus that her photographs seem intent on disrupting the banality of one’s daily visual encounters of the world. Her photographs are a combination of portraiture and still life, and her photographic aesthetic makes the captured subjects look feisty and fresh, and, dare I say, cool?
Some of her works are currently on display through the first week of June at the Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai. The exhibition is largely drawn from the Art Jameel Collection and exhibited as one of the Artist’s Rooms series. Described as “collaborative capsule shows,” the Artist’s Rooms series dedicates a gallery to the works of a single artist who is seen as influential or innovative. The center gives particular attention to artists from the Middle East, Asia or Africa–areas that have influenced or continue to influence the Emirates, its artists and the greater community.
The exhibition is worth visiting to see how young Emirati artists are creating unique narratives and strong statements of contemporary cultural identity. Al Qasimi’s work focuses on exploring the public and private spaces which women inhabit, such as homes and bedrooms. In addition, she often threads in a critique of how consumer culture seduces people, particularly women, with promises of beauty or self-improvement. Her oeuvre also includes video and performance-based work.
A 2017 graduate of the prestigious Master’s of Fine Arts program at Yale University with a focus on photography, Al Qasimi has honed her photography skills to a unique aesthetic. Appearing partly like glossy fashion magazine shoots and like hallucinatory dreamscapes, her works are tethered to a reality of her own construction.
Al Qasimi discovered the potential of photography after enrolling in some art classes during her undergraduate years, also at Yale, while she was studying music. “I attended a high school where art or music weren’t available as subjects to take, so when I took an art class in college, it opened up a whole new world of non-verbal communication,” she says. After a few years of full-time jobs and producing art in her spare time, she was awarded a scholarship from the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation to attend graduate school.
“At the foundation and at Yale, I found a wonderful community of hard-working artists,” she says. “Graduate school or institutional residency programs don’t give you anything that you can’t get from real world experience, but they can be a fast track to forming meaningful communities¬–and gateways to new forms of production.”