Zeitgeist: Farah Al Qasimi

Photographer Farah Al Qasimi’s technicolour images explore excess and extremes, as well as power structures in the Gulf

Using the world as raw material rather than direct subject, Farah Al Qasimi enables multiple ideas to be at play in a single photograph. While her primary line of inquiry examines post-colonial structures of power, gender and taste in the Gulf Arab states, what galvanises the work is her ability to embed meaning into visual aesthetics.

Al Qasimi describes her aesthetic approach as “so muchness”. Her frames overflow with a heady mix of print, objects and domestic interiors amplified by the tension between harsh lighting and an acidic colour palette. Together they transport us into her psyche, an intimate imagining of her world. 

“I think one of the words people associate with the Gulf is excess – an excess of power, money and oil. I do believe there is excess, but it exists outside of those terms. Living there is to be constantly surrounded by imagery. There are billboards the size of skyscrapers along the highway. There is a sense of layering that happens within the landscape of the place that I’m trying to speak to in my work.”

Top: G Climbing a Prop Warehouse Façade, 2019; Above: Noora’s Room, 2020. All images courtesy of the artist and The Third Line, Dubai

With a Lebanese American mother and an Emirati father, Al Qasimi has lived much of her life between Abu Dhabi and the United States. Describing herself as both an “insider and outsider”, the intersection of these two cultures is central to her ideas about exchange and hybridity. Her work is part celebration, part criticism of the Emirates, one that springs from her curiosity in the complexity of the social and political norms instead of a need to correct Western perceptions. “To know something deeply is to both love it, but also to want it to be better,” she tells me.