JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 color photographs framed in dark wood and unmatted, hung on pale blue-painted walls in the gallery space. All of the works are archival inkjet prints, made between 2016 and 2017. The prints range in size from roughly 15×12 inches to 45×35 inches and are available in editions of 5+2AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Like the works in it, this exhibition is intriguingly open-ended. For the most part, the show—Farah Al Qasimi’s first solo exhibition in New York—addresses perceptions of masculinity through photographs taken in the United States, where Al Qasimi recently earned her MFA from Yale, and the United Arab Emirates, where she grew up. In one image, two Arab men gently touch noses in a traditional greeting that in this country might be considered too intimate a gesture; another picture shows an American soldier speaking into a telephone, his back to the camera. The hand of a second uniformed man rests on the first man’s shoulder, although whether it’s to comfort him or simply get his attention isn’t clear.
As well as giving a nuanced view of what it is to be male, the exhibition offers an alternative to American representations of Asian and Arabic men post-9/11. Al Qasimi refers obliquely to how dangerous those representations can be in one photograph in particular: an image of a microphone flanked by two vases, each holding a rose, with the shadow of the unseen speaker, a bearded and turbaned man, looming on a wall in the background. Al Qasimi took the picture in Olathe, Kansas, while documenting the aftermath of the shooting there of two Indian-Americans, who had apparently been mistaken for Arabs.
A subset of photographs features animals, always shown under human control. They include birds, butterflies—in Butterfly Garden, two of them rest on a slice of orange—and, in Piper at a Barbecue in Houston, a dog cringing near a low table bearing a plate of raw steaks and several guns.
Formal resonances likewise serve to tie the photographs together. Hands are more commonly seen, for instance, than faces. An image of a falcon perched on its stand in a falcon hospital in the Emirates—where falconry, an ancient sport, is popular—shows the bird quiescent under a leather hood; in Living Room Vape, a small white cloud obscures the vaper’s features. Dressed in white, he reads as a void amid the patterning of the room’s carpet, a couch’s upholstery, and the caftan worn by a young woman standing near him; the pleated caftan, in turn, echoes the pleated curtains in another picture, a portrait of Al Qasimi’s father.
Both individually and together the photographs resist easy interpretation, tacking over unstable and at times unsettling ground, including societal constructions of identity, the use of power, and our relationships with nature and with each other. This approach might not have resulted in so captivating an exhibition if Al Qasimi didn’t have the skills to pull it off. But she’s a terrific photographer, and her selection of pictures and her pacing of them underscore their deliberateness.
Collector’s POV: The photographs in this show are priced between $1000 and $3000 (unframed) depending on size. Al Qasimi’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail is likely the best option for those collectors interested in following up.