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Heard on CultureShift

Are You Even Arab If You Don’t Have a Secret Life?

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Image credit: Farah Al Qasimi

Photographer Farah Al Qasimi spent a month documenting the lives of Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Mich. for a new photo exhibition.

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When Farah Al Qasimi got the opportunity to document Arab American culture in Detroit and Dearborn, she considered it a “dream come true.”

The 29-year-old photographer aims to “capture power, gender and taste in the Arab world” and both Detroit and Dearborn offered a unique opportunity to capture just that.

A lot of these young people are growing up in a difficult time. A lot of them are being demonized for their racial identities.” - Farah Al Qasimi, photographer

The thing that really struck me the most was the warmth and openness of the people I met in Dearborn,” says Qasimi.


Showing: Brotherville 

Where: David Adamany Undergraduate Library at 5155 Gullen Mall, Detroit, MI 48202

When: Through March 13

More information


The month-long residency has become a new exhibition of Qasimi’s work called “Brotherville,” which primarily captures the social lives of young Arab-Americans in the area. The exhibit was supported by a Knight Foundation grant and organized by the Wayne State University Art Collection. 

"Dream Market" by Farah Al Qasimi.Farah Al Qasimi
Farah Al Qasimi

Dream Market” by Farah Al Qasimi.

In Qasimi’s color-rich photographs, she captures the next generation of Arab-Americans in metro Detroit looking to forge “friendship circles on their own value systems rather than the value systems of their parents,” explains Qasimi.

A thing that a lot of young Arab-Americans are doing really well in Dearborn is trying to tread this fine line between respecting tradition and heritage but also reframing what it means for themselves.” - Farah Al Qasimi, photographer

In many ways, it’s the straddling of two distinct worlds where contemporary American culture and Arab-American tradition and religion meet head-on on a daily basis.

"Changing Room" by Farah Al Qasimi.Farah Al Qasimi
Farah Al Qasimi

Changing Room” by Farah Al Qasimi.

I read this meme that was like, ‘Are you even Arab if you don’t have a secret life?’” says Qasimi, who grew up in Abu Dhabi and currently lives in New York City. “A thing that a lot of young Arab-Americans are doing really well in Dearborn is trying to tread this fine line between respecting tradition and heritage but also reframing what it means for themselves.”

With her new exhibition “Brotherville,” Qasimi hopes viewers walk away with a better understanding of the diverse individuals who make up the Arab-American community in Dearborn and Detroit. 

What I hope is felt in the photographs is really a celebration of these people and their lives but also a look into the complexity of identity that some of them might be moving through,” says Qasimi. “What does it mean to be a young woman who is interested in modest hijabi fashion who still really wants to express herself but wants to respect that part of her religion? What does it mean to be a young queer Arab? What does it mean to be someone who is not just one identity or another but actually exists at the intersection of these important, often marginalized identities?”

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Ryan Patrick Hooper, Host, CultureShift

Ryan Patrick Hooper is the host and producer of CultureShift. As a longtime arts and culture reporter.

hooper@wdet.org Follow @HooperRadio

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