For anyone with a predilection for kaleidoscopic maximalism and nostalgia-flavoured sassiness, New York-based photographer Farah Al Qasimi’s offering is most welcome. Her work consists of dynamically coloured compositions featuring floral prints and clashing patterns, which are simultaneously ultra-feminine and fiercely striking.
Graced with Persian rugs, traditional Middle Eastern attire, and classical Arab ornaments, her photographs are not just unabashedly vibrant, they are also a meaningful insight into the playful interior of the Arab world. They appear cinematic, almost like freeze-frames from a film peeking into the life of a very stylish Middle Eastern family.
Those unfamiliar with the UAE may find her work strangely bright and saturated, but to the Yale-educated photographer, this is simply “what the Emirates look like – I’m not exaggerating, it is truly a place of magnificent colour”.
With her natural ability to create such artful compositions, it’s hard to imagine that photography wasn’t her first passion. Growing up in Abu Dhabi, Al Qasimi learned to play the piano and then went on to study music at Yale University. It was at Yale that she delved into photography classes, discovering her enjoyment of the solitude working in the darkroom as opposed to the dense, theory-led music classes.
Though the United States have been home to Al Qasimi for the past five years, the UAE has been a constant in her work. “My work is obviously very aesthetically driven so often it starts with an aesthetic curiosity about a place,” she explains. “The [UAE] is a really fascinating case study.”
While her art is that of revelation, it is of mystery as well. Al Qasimi plays with ideas of identity and anonymity, photographing individuals with faces turned away, sheathed in fabric, or veiled by plumes of smoke. “I’m interested in how you can make a portrait of somebody without showing their face; that is in line with the visual traditions of the region and also respecting people’s anonymity.”
Though Al Qasimi typically portrays her themes through a savvy conceptual lens, some of her works bubble up from a more personal place. “My grandmother was somebody who made her own blankets.” Her focus on photographing domestic spaces, she explains, “feels like a way of maybe shining light on something that is often seen as craft or hobby and maybe giving it significance or, for me, admiration.”
Photos: The Third Line, Dubai