AGWA hosts Farah Al Qasimi’s first solo exhibition in Australia - GulfToday

AGWA hosts Farah Al Qasimi’s first solo exhibition in Australia


A hyper-colourised work from Farah Al Qasimi.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

The Simon Lee Foundation Institute of Contemporary Asian Art, a major curatorial initiative at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), presents Star Machine, the first major museum exhibition of Farah Al Qasimi (b. 1991, Abu Dhabi) in Australia (Feb. 4 – July 30). The installation brings together over 20 works from a key five-year period of the artist’s practice (2017-2021) and includes some of her most well-known photographs and the recent video, General Behaviour (2020). Employing overflowing frames, reflective surfaces, fractured perspectives, precise lighting and a meticulous attention to detail, the works provoke important questions around ‘what do photos do now?’.

Based between Brooklyn and Dubai, Al Qasimi employs photography as a tool of inquiry into how spaces and subjectivities influence each other. She deals with social media’s links to emotions, performance and youth culture, and its re-purposing by artists and others. For her, photography is both a tool and a mirror that picturises self-creation, and the resultant re-configuration of public and private spheres due to socio-techno conditions.

She presents the mundane alongside bursts of explosive beauty, humorous indifference and tongue-in-cheek social commentary. It is a sophisticated and fluid position, from where Al Qasimi’s hyper-colourised and hyper-reflective photographs draw us into the lives of friends and strangers, women and men, many of whom dwell amidst glittering shopping malls and lavish homes in America and the United Arab Emirates.


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In kaleidoscopically stylised settings, she ponders over the clash inherent in our efforts to locate grounded identities and attachments in a persistently mutable world. The exhibition is titled after Al Qasimi’s photograph Star Machine (2021), a self-portrait taken in the family home during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Seeking to change the monotony of her surroundings, the star machine brought the heavens to earth through a projection of light. As the fake stars dramatically envelop the artist and her environment, the work sums up many of the concerns that drive her output and the show itself: the ways that realities are layered and imagined, and how photography is not simply about documenting and critiquing the world, but part of how we shape worlds within worlds.

A close-up view of one of Farah Al Qasimi’s compositions.

The works in Star Machine flicker between dark moments of disconnection and idyllic expressions of care, community and faith. Between these poles, Al Qasimi maps the traces of situations that simultaneously hold and punctuate our daily lives. Through a mixture of close-ups, mid-shots, and longshots, that at times almost completely dissolve the subject, the images position the viewer at an intimate distance as part of a general atmospheric disruption. In using photography, an inherently social medium, to seek out sensations of closeness when one is physically separated, Al Qasimi is mindful about showing that spiritual experience must not always be threatened by consumption; about how Neoliberalism’s individualisation of well-being need not run rampant; to show how images can be coping strategies; and that our big and small acts of self-making and transcendence can also be enabling mechanisms.

Farah Al Qasimi: Star Machine is curated by Rachel Ciesla, Lead Creative for the Simon Lee Foundation Institute of Contemporary Asian Art (SLF ICAA). It is supported by the Simon Lee Foundation and assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australia-Japan Foundation and the AustraliaKorea Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Al Qasimi lives and works in Brooklyn and Dubai. Recent solo exhibitions include General Behavior, Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation (2022); Letters for Occasions, Esker Foundation, Calgary (2022) and Everywhere there is splendor, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2021). She has presented a major commission Back and Forth Disco for the New York Public Art Fund (2020); and exhibited at the Pera Museum, Istanbul (2021); Les Rencontres d’Arles (2021); Yokohama Triennale (2020) and Lahore Biennale (2020).

Al Qasimi’s work is held in museum collections internationally, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Tate Modern, London; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; and The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth. She studied photography and music at Yale University in 2012 and received her MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2017.

Situated in the heart of Perth’s cultural centre, AGWA houses the state art collection, Western Australia’s premier visual arts asset. It has a collection of works by Western Australian and First Nations artists. Founded in 1895, it occupies a precinct of three heritage buildings on the south-eastern corner of the Perth Cultural Centre, including the former Perth Police Courts. The main gallery opened in 1979 and is a Brutalist building by architect Charles Sierakowski. In 2021, AGWA completed a major redevelopment project returning the main gallery to its original Brutalist intent and opening a new rooftop level, design store and cafe. SLF ICAA is a major curatorial initiative of AGWA, established to enrich and deepen the gallery’s connections with contemporary art practices and cultural thinking in Asia and its diaspora communities.

It is integrated within AGWA and works with the gallery’s curatorial team to present works by new and established Asian artists, and foster the exchange of art and ideas in Western Australia and the wider region, in partnership with global institutional peers. In partnership with the Simon Lee Foundation, SLF ICAA supports the careers of inspirational, ground-breaking contemporary Asian artists through acquisitions, exhibitions and digital projects, alongside residencies and cultural exchange programmes.


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