Farah Al Qasimi: Hello Future , copyright 2022
Design: Studio Lin
Text: Negar Azimi, Meriem Bennani
Copyediting: Logan Becker, Miilo Wall
As a child, Farah Al Qasimi remembers, Dubai was still a city populated by migrant workers from Iran, South-East Asia and Bedouin. The industrial transformation began only gradually. Through oil deposits and the burgeoning tourism industry, Dubai and the UAE developed into a gateway to Asia and an economic power in the Middle East.
Farah Al Qasimi illuminates the tension between the inner life and the public life of the Emiratis. Of course, even in the most liberal Arab country in the Gulf region, Islam prevails as a form of society. And this entails restrictions.
Hello Future may well be understood as an imperative, because the country really does have a dazzling future ahead of it.
At first glance, her work may seem like an unsorted, chaotic work. Photos of living rooms, of imams, a bar of soap, a Chinese supermarket, a falconry clinic, a small glimpse of a mall.
But these fragments fit perfectly in a the big picture. A melting pot that doesn’t mix anything, in which many societies exist in parallel, but no mixing, no exchange takes place.
Traditional things like falconry, Islam, women in hijabs, but of course also malls, consumption, capitalism, women who present themselves without hijab but with make-up. It is these supposed paradoxes, but only at first glance, that make her book so exciting.
Some may lack a narrative, a storyline, something to shimmy from A to B. But Farah remains consistent in her non-wisdom. But Farah remains consistent in her non-structure. Of course, this is wonderfully suited to a country like Dubai, which has long since transformed itself into an ultra-modern megacity, but only a few kilometers into the desert, towards Al Awir, little remains of the glamour and futurism.
Even the way from the airport into the city, into the canyons of the gigantic skyscrapers, is paired with ambivalence. The obvious gap between rich and poor may not be as blatant as in many Western European or US metropolises, but the gap between immigrant workers and Emiratis is of course glaring. Because Dubai or the UAE is not yet a real melting pot. This is also reflected in Farah’s work. Of course, Hello Future only applies to Emiratis for the time being. Guest workers, who make up 90 percent of the population, are strangely non-existent. All the more so in the street scene. Indians, Pakistanis, South East Asians are the ones who keep the place running. As taxi drivers, cleaners, restaurant operators and, of course, construction workers. One looks in vain for the promise of advancement that the USA offers. The power relations are crystal clear.
One of my favourite paintings is on page 19.
In an almost too typical living room with colourful sofas, tapestries, a European landscape painting with a scenery from the probably 19th century got lost. Next to it, a lamp from the early 20th century.
The family’s car is either of German or Japanese manufacture and the vaporiser most likely comes from China.
You can’t get more diverse than that. At least on the surface.
Farah’s images are of course influenced by her origins and that is not an accusation, simply an observation and thus only depict a small, albeit crucial, part of the country.
My second favourite image is Aviary
Here, the not entirely false cliché of imitating everything natural in an artificial environment comes out a little. Be it ski parks or aviaries. Animals that are usually found in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula now vegetate under hundreds of neon lights. In the background, the painted wall suggests a desert.
It is this desire to make the impossible possible, to tame nature and bring it from the outside into the inside. To enjoy, study or be entertained in a controlled environment.
This may be attributed to an eternal transformation. A Bedouin people who can build a metropolis of millions will not stop at snow in the desert or a few birds.
That is a threat and a promise at the same time