x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Farah Al Qasimi art's hanging from the moon

Farah Al Qasimi is a young Emirati photographer and artist who is already enjoying a successful career. We visited her for the fifth part of our summer artist's studio series.

Farah Al Qasimi changed her degree from music to art at Yale University, and found her niche in photography. Antonie Robertson / The National
Farah Al Qasimi changed her degree from music to art at Yale University, and found her niche in photography. Antonie Robertson / The National

Gazing down through the window of her home studio on to one of the ubiquitous traffic-laden signals in Dubai, Farah Al Qasimi sums up how she feels when producing her art.

"Instead of asking the question: who I am, which is the perennial question of an artist, I ask: where am I, where do I belong and what is this place? There are so many different experiences and worlds that come together here, which I think is a wonderful thing, but it also makes it difficult to get a handle on what time and place we are in."

Since she graduated in fine arts from Yale University in May last year, this 22-year-old Emirati has been attempting to express the spectrum of her emotions through her art.

"On a simple level, everyone goes through this when they come back from university," she articulates with a wisdom that often belies her years. "But when I came back to the UAE, I realised I have a lot of unresolved questions.

"When I started to photograph here, it was almost like being a tourist in a place I had known my whole life because I was just beginning this new sense of understanding that I had never engaged with before. It was very important for me to come back with a new perspective."

Although Al Qasimi was initially studying contemporary music and composition, she changed her degree in the first year, because art "made more sense" to her as a language. It was painting and drawing that first beckoned her into the world of art and she still describes them as her first love but, in the end, she found her niche in the medium of photography.

"One semester I had a breakthrough when I discovered that what was interesting to me was my family," she explains. "I photographed portraits of them in their home in the US and all of a sudden it became a new way to process and engage with the world around me. I knew what to do with a camera. I saw things and I knew I had to photograph them; it was a clarity that I didn't really have before."

Al Qasimi's first solo exhibition, Hung from the Moon, up in The Pavilion Downtown Dubai until the end of August, comprises a collection of photographs capturing mundane elements of domestic life that somehow also illustrate the duality of the concept of home - is it foreign or familiar?

For a person of mixed heritage - her mother is Lebanese-American and her father is Emirati - Al Qasimi is clearly exploring her own identity, but she has taken great pains to widen the sphere of questioning.

"The lack of a sense of place or home is something I had never been able to articulate before I found my art," she says. "In a way, I have multiple homes and families and I had a lot of trouble figuring out where I fit in."

The photos from this series and her earlier work are taken from a fly-on-the-wall standpoint that Al Qasimi almost hid in as the seedlings of her artistic practice took root. After taking the portraits of her family, she became fascinated with the places they inhabit and the evidence that they have been there - hence her photographs contain normally overlooked details such as the remains of a birthday cake and a paint-stained sink.

Since the exhibition opened, Al Qasimi set up a studio at home to continue to probe the issues that trouble her as well as to push her own boundaries.

"I'm now taking everything I learnt as a fly on the wall and processing it, which is incredibly hard for me," she says. "That is why I needed this studio."

She is also taking on new ways of working, which include constructing shoots and using props - a guitar, a leopard-print sheet and strobe lights circa 1998.

"Now there is more play, more fun and more punk rock DNA," she says. "It is also about 'making things happen' as opposed to 'waiting for things to happen' - which can be hard because it's not always good, and if it is not good then it's your fault," she says.

So, as Al Qasimi moves self-critically through her development and takes bold strides into new areas, her inner battles are both her biggest enemy and asset.

"I have no quantifiable goals other than I want to be always growing and eventually fearless," she says. "I think that if you are honest and genuinely do have a reason for producing work then inevitably someone will connect to it."


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