Farah Al Qasimi’s effervescent and often uncanny images have graced gallery walls from New York’s MoMA to the UAE’s Jameel Arts Center. But the Abu Dhabi-born, Brooklyn-based photographer’s latest series appears in a rather edgier, urban setting: 100 New York City bus shelters.
Inserted into light boxes normally used for advertising, the Public Art Fund-commissioned exhibition Back and Forth Disco (on view until 17 May) homes in on expressive details that speak to global cultures, observed in Al Qasimi’s creative stomping grounds: the convenience stores, beauty salons and back streets of New York’s most immigrant-rich neighbourhoods. A mirror is held up to the city, from the distinct perspective of an artist who’s at once “an insider because I have an Emirati passport [and] an outsider because I’m only half Emirati, and I have family here in the US”.
This deluge of texture, pattern and saturated colour is multicultural New York in all its cacophonous glory. Take a look at a selection of images below.
Woman in Leopard Print, 2019
This staged image reconstructs a moment Al Qasimi saw in a Brighton Beach salon: a woman in a leopard-print hijab studies herself in a compact mirror, her single eye glimpsed as a reflection. There’s more than a hint of the Surreal in the cropped, disembodied eye, echoing Man Ray’s famous photograph, Tears (1930–32).
Blanket Shop, 2019
This vivid chromatic scale of diagonal stripes, shot in Jackson Heights, Queens, almost tips into abstraction; only the shopkeeper’s arm draws us back into a recognisable physical space.
The resident cockatoo at a curtain store in Ridgewood, Queens, is offered a perch by a customer; the woman’s bright red nails playfully suggest a bird’s talons.
Woman on Phone, 2019
A pocket of colour against a drab urban backdrop. “The thing that struck me… when I moved to New York was how grey and beige all the buildings are,” Al Qasimi says. “To somebody who grew up in the Emirates, it’s so foreign – I’m used to buildings that are tiled, or covered in pink or gold glass.”
East Broadway Mall, 2019
“New York is probably the hardest place in the world to photograph because it’s just so incredibly over-photographed,” Al Qasimi says – and yet, she’s succeeded in showing the city afresh, through the idiosyncratic gaze of an insider-outsider.