What is postmodernism? Whilst many cultural critics have attempted to answer this question, the term itself plagues those who concern themselves with it. Commonly, postmodern expression tends to use pastiche, deconstruction, and a heavy reliance on references (such as nostalgia), becoming increasingly popular during an age of heightened consumerism. Postmodernism and marketing go hand-in-hand in this respect, providing consumers with a rebellious, sexy or strong, individualistic fantasy if they would only part ways with their hard earned cash. Known for photographing vivid colours and layered textures, Farah Al Qasimi’s work distils the nuances of our postmodern everyday life. 
Often taking place in the streets and domestic interiors of the Arabian Gulf and New York City, her photography frequently explores the intersection of cultural or gender identity and consumerism. Past exhibitions The World Is Sinking, or Back and Forth Disco typify her investigation into the overlapping identities of people she meets in NYC and Dubai, each photo referencing yet defying strict cultural classifications. Al Qasimi’s ability to seamlessly float between these places and her subjects is one of the great strengths of her photography, highlighting that cultural differences can be boiled down to the simple matter of which lens is being used to view them.
Her chameleon-like style bleeds into her film work also. Surrealism and kitsch aesthetics weave in and out of each other, creating a haunting atmosphere in one of her latest pieces Psychic Repair (2023). Nostalgia — as in the loss of a better past — permeates the landscape of the film and we as viewers are left lacking, as if we have been advertised a product we will never acquire. As some critics theorise of postmodernism’s edging toward a slow, woeful demise, it is artists like Al Qasimi who remind us of what we leave behind, a world built on consumption, greed, and division. I recently spoke to Farah about some of her work and her upcoming projects. Her words are charged with endless possibility.
Although you are certainly more than just a photographer, how often do you take photographs? Is it part of your daily practice?
Daily, yes, even if it’s just with my iPhone. I'm always photographing the world to understand it spatially, almost like a sketching process.
Aside from the act of holding a camera, how does your photography practice intersect with your other work, most notably in film? Do you find yourself telling different narratives when working with different mediums?
I think of the films as wider or more elastic versions of the photographs, in a way. They expand on some kind of reality and turn it into fiction, so there is always some aspect of witnessing in the work.
S Folding Blanket (2016) immediately stuck out to me when I was looking through your work. An Instagram post once told me, probably over ten years ago now, that if I wanted to take great pictures then I should look for S-shapes in nature because they guide the eye to the main subject. In your eyes, what makes a great photograph?
That’s a good question. I think a good photograph to me is one that photographs the way that something feels. 
The colour palette of your photographs is so vivid and intense. In S Folding Blanket for example, the fabric envelopes its holder, leading me to see the curves and folds of the blanket as the photos subject instead of leading anywhere in particular. How do you read or respond to this piece several years after it was taken?
I think a lot about my friend who’s in the photograph now. I haven’t seen her in a while so it feels like a memory of that time rather than a photograph.
Tell me more about the visuality of your daily routine. Do you often find yourself surrounded by vivid colours? Or do you seek them out in the grey-washed city?
No, I'm definitely surrounded by grey and beige a lot. I have to seek out colour, at least in the US. I fill my studio with it. 
Similarly on the theme of fabric and obscured subjects, Living Room Vape (2016) not only shares these qualities with S Folding Blanket but adds even more texture; obscured subjects, clashing patterns, colours, natural forms alongside still life, etc. Did you conceive of this photograph or was it spontaneous?
A little bit of both. 
Do you seek to point out these moments where given narratives are visually disrupted, such as casually vaping next to ornate rugs and paintings, or Disney princess graphics behind miniature glass structures in a shop window (Queens Main Street)?
I think it’s just observing the natural order of things, how events play out, or how the juxtaposition of objects tells us things about humanity. 
Many of the photos of More Good News spring to mind when I think of this disruption, especially those which rewrite stereotypical assumptions of Middle Eastern men through beautifully constructed, intimate portraiture. For you, is your photography an opportunity to show nuance rather than spell it out verbally?
I think that people will always arrive at a photograph with their own baggage — it’s impossible not to. For example: I know that I always connect more immediately with photographs of people whose realities mirror my own in some way.
Your work frequently displays the excess generated through capitalism, in both the UAE and the US. Do you notice similarities between excessive production in the East and West? Are there universal qualities to our shared plastic postmodernity?
Excessive waste is a global problem. I think the difference is the way that corporations and governments engineer language to force people into consuming more (quote unquote) ethically — but this is just another tactic to avert people’s awareness of who the biggest threats are to climate change. 
Do you think that the perfect characteristics and preconceptions that we absorb from images and personas in marketing, can be linked to the negative sides of consumer habits, such as attention span erosion?
I’m not sure what the exact link is, but I do think it’s alarming how our attention spans have splintered. It’s a strange adaptation and I’ve witnessed it already within my own lifetime. I watch a lot of older movies that have a singular plot - and now it feels like in any movie, there are always subplots, little romance plots, comedic breaks to hold your attention at the right moment.
Your film Psychic Repair (2023) deals with this consumer culture in its first half. The second half then interrogates the ghostly aura of not only the objects we inhabit but also our poltergeist-like inhabiting of them. What relationship does your practice have toward hauntology, or the persistence of the past to continue inhabiting the present?
I am just a regular person who is bad at throwing things away and easily charmed by the veneer of something new. I think a lot of this pulls from my personal experience with letting go of the promise of objects and learning to find that potential elsewhere — somewhere immaterial — and that’s a lifelong spiritual practice for many people. 
Your solo exhibition last year at C/O Berlin - Poltergeist - dealt with this oscillation. Not only were there visible juxtapositions of the past and the future colliding, but also your own pieces from the past were displayed alongside works created for the exhibition. In what ways do you resonate with the idea of oscillation, of being between the past and future, between places, or between mediums of expression?
My work does it on its own. And it also echoes the consistency with which we receive new information. There are new images in every corner, challenging something you might see in a different corner. There are silly images and serious ones. It’s a kind of whiplash.
How do you see your work evolving as we currently speak? Are there any new avenues you are excited to explore as an artist?
I’m at a residency in Marfa and I’m removing everything I know about (quote unquote) concept and just making photographs of the people I meet and the places I go. It’s an approach that I always found inaccessible because I was too shy, too afraid. But it’s been so freeing.
Do you have any upcoming projects which we can direct our readership towards?
My show at the Tate Modern is up until November of 2025.