Farah Al Qasimi’s Public Photography Exhibition, “Back and Forth Disco”

On display in 18 NYC neighborhoods, a celebration of rich and unique cultures

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Abu Dhabi-born, New York-based photographer Farah Al Qasimi‘s newest exhibition, Back and Forth Disco, presents itself in the unremarkable nooks and crannies of the city, offering visual stimuli to those waiting at or passing by 100 public bus stops. NYC’s Public Art Fund commissioned the 17 new works, and installed the pieces in pairs across the five boroughs. They embody Al Qasimi’s recognizable style and aim to “isolate and highlight the beauty of seemingly inconspicuous moments amidst New York City’s visual and audible noise.” The photographs are subtle, but rich with cultural identity and provide beautification to otherwise dull or advertisement-covered spaces.

“It’s really a beautiful thing to see that sense of style,” Al Qasimi explains in a video statement. “It’s something that’s highly individualized, but I think it can be political. When you walk into a space that feels like you’re transported there’s an ownership, right? It really got me thinking about New York as a point of entry for so many immigrants who are coming from all over the world, and particularly the Middle East.”

For the project, Al Qasimi captured images of customers, storefronts, and shelves and decor inside businesses that are proud of their imported culture—whether it’s by selling garments from their homeland or adorning their store with motifs from a particular culture or region. Al Qasimi stirs feelings of desire, pride, and a sense of home through these images of decorations and products.

“There’s a way to access memory and desire and aspiration and location through objects. There’s so much more to them than just these tchotchkes that we collect. Even though I want to be a little more critical of the need to shop, I feel it. And I think that it can be really transformative, and really affirming for some people. It allows them to build a world in which they see themselves mirrored,” Al Qasimi explains to the Public Art Fund.

Beautiful as they are, the photographs that compose Back and Forth Disco also act as opportunities for education, awareness and community. Using the entirety of the city as her subject, and employing space typically reserved for advertisements, Al Qasimi tethers the population to one another by celebrating these nuances and differences. Whether it’s “Bodega Chandelier,” her shot of “an elaborate crystal light fixture that dominates the ceiling of a Yemeni-owned bodega in Ridgewood, Queens” or “Parked Car,” a photograph where “garlands of artificial flowers from an Indian wedding decorate a polished gray car,” each image offers a taste of unique and vibrant beauty.

Back and Forth Disco is on display citywide, in 18 neighborhoods, through 17 May.

Images courtesy of the Public Art Fund