Farah Al Qasimi Night Swimming

May 1–Jun 2,  2023
    Farah Al Qasimi, Star Machine, 2021. Courtesy of the artist
Farah Al Qasimi, Star Machine, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Working between the United Arab Emirates and New York, Lebanese-American artist Farah Al Qasimi finds her vibrant, collage-like compositions in the international cityscapes around her, or creates them in-studio. Presented along the subway platform at Davisville Station, the images in Night Swimming show fragments of shop displays, luxury interiors, and street life, weaving together the complexities of cultural identity, gender roles, and consumer culture.

Farah Al Qasimi, Stray Flowers in Swimming Pool, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse
Still, it’s so much clearer

— R.E.M., “Nightswimming,” 1993

Taking up the space of advertisements in Davisville station, many of the images in Al Qasimi’s Night Swimming were made alone or after dark during the pandemic, reflecting feelings of isolation, uncertainty, escape, and hope. The artist’s title for the project aptly connects the installation to music, so often a shield against the onslaught of urban intrusions—a way to shore ourselves up against the fluidity and cacophony of the city. Though still and silent, Al Qasimi’s images resonate as deeply cinematic, opening us up to imagining possible narratives.

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Al Qasimi, like so many of us, adjusted to a changed social and emotional reality. Her practice, which often relied on exploring dense urban areas and closely collaborating with other people, had already begun to move into quieter, darker realms—or inside, to her studio. As many of us navigated uncertainty and anxiety in seclusion, Al Qasimi considered the different ways we found escape in, or from, everyday life: “Immigration, shopping, meditation, religion,” the artist reflects, “these are ways that we manifest hope for ourselves.” In these works, figures often lurk in the dark, as in Woman in Bathroom Window (2022), where a woman’s raised hand is pressed against an obscured paned door, or in G Climbing a Prop Warehouse Façade (2019), in which a figure cloaked in white against the dark horizon climbs fake façades manufactured for shopping malls.

In her studio, Al Qasimi turned to her own archive—photographs and ephemera related to her family’s history—as base elements for her collages. Al Qasimi’s family came to America in two waves—at the end of the 19th century, and in the mid-20th century—working factory and service-industry jobs to make ends meet. In her collages including Joy (2021), Kimball Hotel (2021), and Still Life with Sample Text and Pina Coladas (2021), she layers references to her ancestry, such as a scan of an Arabic-to-English textbook cover, alongside photographs from various generations of family albums. Imbuing them with elements from her own life, the resulting works create connections between present and past. In one, a small plastic jug of pink liquid sits near the bottom left, labeled “Joy.” Her name, Farah, translates as “Joy,” she tells me pointing to it: “That’s me in the corner.”

Farah Al Qasimi, Joy, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Curated by Sara Knelman

Presented by CONTACT. Supported by PATTISON Outdoor Advertising

Farah Al Qasimi (b. 1991, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; lives and works in Brooklyn, NY) works with photography, video, music and performance. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis; Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai; CCS Bard Galleries at the Hessel Museum of Art, New York; The Third Line, Dubai; The List Visual Arts Center at MIT, Cambridge; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto. She has participated in residencies at the Delfina Foundation, London; Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine; and is a recipient of the Art Basel Miami Legacy Purchase Program Prize, the New York NADA Artadia Prize; an Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship; and the 2020 Capricious Photo Award. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, UAE; the Tate Modern, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; and Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography, Amsterdam. Al Qasimi received her BA from Yale University and her MFA from the Yale School of Art. Her first monograph, Hello Future, published by Capricious in 2021, was shortlisted for the Aperture/Paris Photo Book of the Year Award.