Vanguard Spotlight: Farah Al Qasimi’s Multi-Continental Debut

Harley Wong
Jan 24, 2023 11:48PM

Farah Al Qasimi, Star Machine, 2021. © Farah Al Qasimi. Courtesy of the artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

While 2020 proved to be an exceptional year for Farah Al Qasimi, which landed her in the The Artsy Vanguard, 2023 further solidifies the photographer’s status as one of the most exciting image makers working today. She begins this year with her first solo show in Australia, “Star Machine,” opening at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth on February 4th. The exhibition features key works Al Qasimi made between 2017 and 2021, including its titular photograph.

Star Machine (2021) encapsulates much of Al Qasimi’s ability to create spectacularly layered compositions. The work depicts a living room bathed in a sea of speckled green light reminiscent of stars. The room’s painted archways, luxurious curtains, ornate chandelier, and host of iridescent surfaces, such as silverware carved in low relief and metal sculptures of birds, only add to the otherworldliness.

Farah Al Qasimi, Signature Hookah Lounge, 2019. © Farah Al Qasimi. Courtesy of the artist; Helena Anrather, New York; and The Third Line, Dubai.


Among this rich visual feast, it’s easy to miss that Star Machine is a self-portrait. Lying down on the sofa in the center of the composition is Al Qasimi. She rests with her head on a pillow, back facing the viewer, and feet in striped fuzzy socks. Her form recalls the art historical trope of the reclining odalisque.

However, set in the domestic space of a contemporary living room instead of the fantasy of a 19th-century harem, and paired with the artist’s casual refusal to acknowledge the audience—not defying nor inviting the viewer’s gaze—the image comes to reflect an ordinary moment of leisure. Throughout her oeuvre, Al Qasimi’s figures are portrayed as they are, unburdened by the mission of subverting an Orientalizing gaze.

Blending futurism and kitsch, nature and artifice, Al Qasimi is known for her photographs and videos that confront the prevalence of consumer culture in the United States and the Persian Gulf. Three months after her debut in Australia, C/O Berlin will mount the artist’s first solo exhibition in Europe.

Throughout 2023, Al Qasimi is also participating in a number of biennials and triennials around the world, including Sharjah Biennial 15 in the United Arab Emirates; the 14th edition of the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea; and the inaugural Triennial for Photography and New Media at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter in Norway. This upcoming year promises to introduce Al Qasimi’s vibrant vignettes to new audiences around the world.

Harley Wong