This spring, images by Farah Al Qasimi can be found all over New York City. The UAE artist’s photos are displayed on bus shelters in all five boroughs, as part of “Back and Forth Disco,” a project with Public Art Fund in partnership with JCDecaux.
Al Qasimi is known for deftly capturing complex contexts, relationships, and histories, with an eye for appealing color, texture, and composition. In her work, she asks, how do you talk about a place without words?
For this public series, the place was New York. She spent time in neighborhoods with large immigrant populations, getting to know the community on the street, in stores, at salons, and even inside some homes. As New Yorkers, we recognize these spaces—an empty station at a barber shop, where someone’s hair is seen getting trimmed in the mirror’s reflection; bright floral fabrics carefully displayed by a proprietor nearly out of frame; a bodega boasting a crystal chandelier and an ornate, cloud-painted ceiling; a dollar store shelf of disparate wares like toothpaste, vases, and a brass clock; a white cockatoo with a shock of yellow feathers perched on a hand next to racks of shower curtains.
In so many images, the subjects appear only partially. We see just an outstretched hand with orange-painted fingernails, the torso of a shop owner, the back of a hairdresser, the eye of a woman glimpsed in a makeup compact, the scrunchy and oversized sweatshirt of a woman talking on the phone. In others we see no one at all, but feel their presence and situations—a scattering of baseball cards from a Yankees fan, a shelf of flowers underneath an image of a waterfall, a car hood decorated with a lei, a hand-written poster saying, “Everything Must Go.”
Al Qasimi is able to convey a story with just the traces we leave behind.
“Farah Al Qasimi: Back and Forth Disco” is on view throughout New York until May 17, 2020.