Farah Al Qasimi photography show

Emirati snapper on capturing Dubai's landscape for her World is Sinking exhibition

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Emirati photographer Farah Al Qasimi’s latest works capture Dubai’s unique landscape.

Visitors to The Third Line gallery can see Emirati photographer and musician Farah Al Qasimi’s latest works, a series of nine new photographs that traces locations in and around Dubai. The exhibition is on display from Wednesday September 24 until Saturday November 8 and explores surfaces and facades meant to represent idealistic aspirations in the UAE.

The 23-year-old is a recent art graduate of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and is based between New York and Dubai. It was painting and drawing that first beckoned her into the world of art and she still describes them as her first loves but, in the end, she found her niche in the medium of photography.

‘I started taking pictures very recently; specifically, my second year of college when I took my first black and white darkroom class. Studying art was an accident: I took a painting class and fell in love with making images as a way to articulate and process big ideas,’ Farah explains.

The images provide an idiosyncratic and humorous look at the multi-dimensional, multi-cultural and increasingly hyper globalised UAE in the past few decades.

‘I once overheard two people talking about their perceptions of the Emirates in a US airport. They used terms like, “crazy rich” and talked about the entire country consisting of skyscrapers and shopping malls.

A small part of me died but I started to think about how important it is for a new country with global aspirations to craft an image for itself and how we have both succeeded and failed at that. The title of the exhibition is taken from a 2011 article in The Telegraph newspaper in the UK about the world islands in Dubai gradually sinking into the sea.’

Farah’s method involves photographing the unusual and often overlooked places where she finds herself positioned. For The World is Sinking, she takes a more introspective look at the Emirates, where she grew up.

‘I came across construction sites plastered with advertisements for the future of the space. You go to beauty salons and get tricked into wanting whiter skin. Everybody is trying to cater to this strange, combined idea of perfect that doesn’t account for variables in culture, religious backgrounds and personal tastes.

I wanted to pause and appreciate the in-between spaces, where some of the facades start to peel back and you realise that the Emirates is a real place with real people and real problems, just like everywhere else,’ says Farah.

The artist is fascinated with the rapid change of local landscape in the name of growth and development, and finds that many rushed attempts end up in near comical results, at the same time creating a sense of alienation towards its own inhabitants. The sense of urgency, disembowelled by the lack of balance, repeatedly leads to changes that are unsustainable and often nonsensical.

‘There are all these hidden spaces that are completely absurd and they’re easy to take for granted because of all the things your eyes get bombarded with. It becomes difficult to weed out all the visual information and look at things with focus, especially in a place so driven by consumers and capitalists.’

The images are curious and amusing, almost like a private joke between herself and the viewer about the absurdity of the human condition, referring to hastily built buildings glimmering like an oasis in the middle of the barren desert landscape; or the pronounced presence of Westernisation, brash as a giant McDonald’s sign on an empty desert highway. Other images include beauty salons, photography studios, advertisements, art murals, and other typical locales that are concerned with crafting aesthetics for their bodies or business, or as a general means of escape.

‘I work exclusively with colour film because of the way it renders surface and space, and I switch between using medium and large format cameras. The visual culture of the UAE and the USA is something I am constantly drawn to. I can get caught up with images that are somewhat caricatures of both places. For example, Americana imagery like motel signs, ice-cream parlours, surfers at the beach or Khaleeji majlises, gas stations, and desert landscapes,’ she explains.

Farah’s photography attempts to capture our strange, modern landscape, reflecting the implications of change in a more personal language and deliberating on how dreaming big has become second nature to the UAE and its inhabitants.
The World is Sinking. Open Sat-Thu 10am-7pm. The Third Line, near the Courtyard, between Marlin Furniture and Spinneys, Al Quoz, www.thethirdline.com (04 341 1367).

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