Fatima Al Qadiri: Chinas of the Mind

Organized by Elena Harvey Collins, Curatorial Assistant

September 25, 2015January 10, 2016

This sound installation can be experienced in Stair A.

Fatima Al Qadiri is a New York-based artist, musician, and composer. Born in Dakar, Senegal, she grew up Kuwait, where her family is from, before moving to the United States after the first Gulf War. Her music mixes multiple influences, moving across time scales, cultures, and countries. 


Al Qadiri’s 2012 EP, Desert Strike, was inspired by the artist’s personal experience of conflict. The album is named after a Sega Mega Drive video game based on Operation Desert Storm, the US military’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, which Al Qadiri played as a child. Tracks like "Oil Well" combine haunting melodies and vocals with elements such as gunshot beats, 8-bit synths, heavy basslines, and video game sound effects—common features of Grime, a genre of underground music that developed in London during the early 2000s. Picking up the sonic influences around her at the time, these songs also convey a sense of loss, cultural slippage, and distance, as the artist experienced the War once again, this time through media.


Al Qadiri’s debut album Asiatisch (2014) moves away from memory and towards speculation. The album mines the concept of “shanzhai,” a slang term in both Mandarin and Cantonese that loosely refers to pirated or counterfeit goods produced in China. Equally important are ideas of China’s rapidly modernizing and growing cities, and the architecture that develops to reflect that reality—high, sharp, shiny, fast. The track "Shanghai Freeway" evokes the disorienting sense of speeding down a highway through a futuristic city. By contrast, "Star-Spangled" (2014), made for TV network Adult Swim, is an electronic rendering of the national anthem that sounds like science fiction soundtrack gone wrong, capturing a sense of paranoia and discontent. 


Al Qadiri's music articulates the disconnect between what is experienced and imagined; how places are distorted and romanticized in our collective memory, and how they can endure as a feeling or a mood. Through her compositions, she builds a sonic architecture that spatializes both past and future.


More in this essay from independent curator Elena Harvey Collins.



Fatima Al Qadiri (1981, Dakar, Senegal) grew up in Kuwait, and lives and works in New York. Al Qadiri has performed and exhibited at MoMA PS1, New York (as a member of the GCC Collective, 2014); Tate Modern, London (as a member of the collective K48 Kontinuum, 2009); the 4th Gwangju Design Biennale (2011), South Korea; and Art Dubai and The Third Line, Dubai, UAE (2011). Al Qadiri is a contributing editor at DIS Magazine and contributor to Bidoun. She has produced music as a solo act under her name and as Ayshay.