The People

About the Artists


Farah Al Qasimi creates vibrant photographic vignettes of both spontaneous and staged scenarios in the Gulf and the United States. Her images emphasize the subtle remnants of colonial influence within the minutiae of ordinary life. Al Qasimi plays with the uncanny geographies informed by migration, displacement, and foreign intervention. She also considers the diaspora in her works. For a Public Art Fund commission in New York in 2020, she homed in on the awe-inspiring, oft-overlooked aesthetics of immigrant neighborhoods in the city, like a chandelier sparkling in a Yemeni-owned bodega; the series of 17 photographs, titled Back and Forth Disco, hung on 100 bus shelters across New York City.

Farah Al Qasimi (Credit: Matthew Leifheit)

Beirut-born, Mumbai-bred, Vikram Divecha is an artist based in Dubai. His practice raises questions about time, value, and authorship by engaging people across urban and social spheres, and working with available material and space. Divecha terms this approach as ‘found processes’, which often sees him intervene within public and social systems. From wholesale exporters to municipal gardeners, architectural consultants to railway traffic managers, Divecha’s participants inform and shape his projects in various ways, at times for sustained durations. These attempts translate into public art, site-specific interventions, workshops, installations, moving images, paintings, surfaces, drawings, photographs, performances and text.


Vikram Divecha (Credit: Elias Trad)

Monira Al Qadiri is a Kuwaiti visual artist born in Senegal and educated in Japan. In 2010, she received a PhD in inter-media art from Tokyo University of the Arts, where her research was focused on the aesthetics of sadness in the Middle East stemming from poetry, music, art and religious practices. Her work explores unconventional gender identities, petro-cultures and their possible futures, as well as the legacies of corruption. She is currently based in Berlin.

Monira Al Qadiri (Credit: Raisa Hagiu)

Best known for her projects informed by extensive research, Ala Younis has explored the formation of the modern Arab world and the potential for renewed thought and action that the era continues to inspire. She examines major issues of the modern day — nationalism, religion, social movements, the emergence of global capital and personal and collective loss — through a multiplicity of voices. She moves through history by studying traces of everyday objects, recurring images and routine practices. Rather than focusing on the perspectives of a singular leader or a spectacular event, Younis offers an in-depth understanding of an era that at times resembles our own.

Ala Younis (Credit: Thomas Venker)

Alaa Edris uses photography, film and performance to enact experimental mappings and manipulations of her social and urban environment. Acting as anthropologist, cartographer and sci-fi voyager, she contends with dominant issues from the field of Arab artistic research, including the construction of gender, the relationship between tradition and progress, and language as a medium for identifying, shaping and articulating a culture. Born in Sharjah, Edris currently lives and works between Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.


Alaa Edris

About the Curator


May Al-Dabbagh is an Assistant Professor of Social Research and Public Policy (NYUAD).  She conducts research on gender and globalization using a combination of social psychology, public policy, and post-colonial feminist lenses. Her current book project, The Messy Middle, is an ethnography of serial migration in Dubai focusing on motherhood, work, and movement. She has received fellowships from the Center of Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford), The Women and Public Policy Program (Harvard), and The Global Institute for Advanced Study and Tisch School of the Arts (NYU). At al Mawrid, she runs Haraka: Experimental Lab for Arab Art and Social Thought which focuses on contemporary art in the Gulf/Khaleej and bridges the social sciences and arts at NYUAD. Al-Dabbagh holds a BA from Harvard University and a PhD from the University of Oxford. 
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About the Program Participants

John O’Brien is a sociologist whose research and teaching interests include culture, religion, social identity, immigration, ethnicity, and Islam and Muslims. His current research project is a three and a half year ethnographic study of a group of Muslim teenagers coming of age in post-9/11 America. His articles have been published in the journals Social Psychology Quarterly and Contexts, and his paper on Muslim American youth and hip-hop culture was recently awarded the Best Student Paper Award from the Association for the Sociology of Religion. At NYUAD, he teaches courses on Religion and Society, Islam and Society, and Ethnographic Fieldwork.


Laure Assaf is an anthropologist and a specialist of Middle Eastern studies. Her research interests focus on youth, urbanity, and migration in contemporary Emirati society and the broader Gulf region. She was trained in anthropology at Paris Nanterre University and in Arabic at the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO) in Paris. She is currently working on a book manuscript derived from her PhD thesis, entitled Arab youths of Abu Dhabi: Status categories, urban sociability, and the shaping of subjectivities in the United Arab Emirates (2017).


Rana AlMutawa completed her doctoral training at the University of Oxford in 2021. Her thesis, which she is currently working on as a book project, is an urban ethnography of middle-class citizens and long-term residents in Dubai. It explores discourses of authenticity that circulate about “spectacular” cities such as Dubai and the forms of belonging and agency that take place in these settings. In particular, she is interested in interrogating the way narratives of certain geographies’ “(in)authenticity” and “superficiality” are often linked to performances of social distinction; in the forms of belonging taking place in “spectacular” spaces that are often dismissed as alienating; and in the intersectional forms of exclusion happening in these settings.

Nidhi Mahajan is the inaugural Fatema Mernissi Postdoctoral Fellow in Social and Cultural Studies. Nidhi Mahajan is assistant professor in Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Mahajan obtained her PhD in Anthropology from Cornell University in 2015. Her research examines transregional maritime connections across the Indian Ocean through shipping and trade networks, ports and their entanglements with state sovereignty.


Ann Morning is an Associate Professor of Sociology at New York University, Affiliated Faculty at NYU Abu Dhabi, and the Academic Director of 19 Washington Square North (WSN), the home of NYUAD in New York. Trained in economics, political science, demography, and international affairs, as well as sociology, her research focuses on race, ethnicity, and the sociology of science, especially as they pertain to census classification worldwide and to individuals’ concepts of difference. She is the author of The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference (University of California Press 2011), and co-author of An Ugly Word: Rethinking Race in Italy and the United States (with Marcello Maneri, forthcoming in 2022 from the Russell Sage Foundation). At 19 WSN, she works to connect NYU faculty in New York and Abu Dhabi and support their scholarly collaborations. 

Kerry Barrett is Associate Dean of Global Programs for New York University. In that role she oversees the program that enables students to study in New York from the NYU campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. Since 2009 she has worked with artists and guest curators on over 25 exhibitions held at 19 Washington Square North. A graduate of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, she is author of Peter Soutman: Life and Oeuvre (OCULI. Studies in the Low Countries. vol. 12). 

Gayatri Gopinath is Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, and the Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University. She works at the intersection of transnational feminist and queer studies, postcolonial studies, and diaspora studies, and is the author of two monographs: Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (Duke University Press, 2005), and Unruly Visions: The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2018). She has published numerous essays on gender, sexuality, and queer diasporic visual art and culture in anthologies and journals such as Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, GLQ, and Social Text, as well as in art publications such as PIX: A Journal of Contemporary Indian Photography, Tribe: Photography and New Media from the Arab World, and ArtReview Asia.

Surabhi Sharma has been an independent filmmaker making feature-length documentaries and short films since 2000. Her documentaries, fiction, and video installations engage with cities in transition using the lens of labor, music, and migration. Her works have been screened at International Film Festivals like Dubai International Film Festival, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, MAMI Mumbai Film Festival amongst others. She has also created video installations that have been exhibited at the Serpentine Gallery, London; nGbK, Berlin, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture, and the 11th Shanghai Biennale (2016). Her films have been recognized and awarded at the 8th Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Brisbane 2016; Eco-Cinema, Greece 2003 (The Ramsar-Medwet Award), Film South Asia, Kathmandu 2001; Karachi Film Festival 2002; and The Festival of Three Continents, Buenos Aires 2002. Sharma is currently teaching and the Program Head, Film and New Media at New York University Abu Dhabi.

George Jose is Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology at NYUAD. He was Dean of the Jyoti Dalal School of Liberal Arts, NMIMS University, Mumbai; Program Director for Asia Society India; Program Executive with India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), Bengaluru; and was Research Fellow at Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. He has directed programs in the field of arts and culture for international and regional organizations and has taught in architecture, design, and management institutes. George maintains a strong interest in arts practice across disciplines and serves collaborative projects in an advisory capacity.

Deepak ഉണ്ണികൃഷ്ണന്‍ is a writer from Abu Dhabi. His book Temporary People, a work of fiction about Gulf narratives steeped in Malayalee and South Asian lingo, won the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, the Hindu Prize, and the Moore Prize.

Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi is an applied-ethnomusicologist who received his PhD in ethnomusicology from New York University in 2016. In addition to working as an assistant professor of music, Al-Mulaifi is also a Venice Biennale artist, composer, Khaleeji-jazz musician, and ensemble leader. His research interests include Kuwaiti pearl diving music, the music of the Indian Ocean civilizations trade routes, global-jazz, and heritage production. His current musical efforts include performing with his ensemble Boom.Diwan where he and traditional Kuwaiti pearl diving musicians merge Kuwaiti bahri (sea) rhythms with global jazz traditions for the purpose of creating a new Kuwaiti music and engaging in a global musical dialog.

Ban Kattan is a research associate at Haraka: Experimental Lab for Arab Art and Social Thought. Her areas of interest cover issues of human and institutional capacity building, sustainable development, gender equality, as well as Arab art and culture. Ban holds a BS in business administration from the American University of Sharjah, a BA in gender and women studies from York University, Canada, and a MA in art in development studies from York University focusing on organization capacity building through knowledge transfer. Ban specializes in translation practices for art and culture organizations in the Middle East and is certified by the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario, Canada.

Shamma Al Bastaki is a poet and artist from Dubai currently pursuing a Masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. She graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi with a double major in Literature and Creative Writing and Social Research and Public Policy. She is the 2019 winner of the ADMAF Creativity Award for her ethno-poetry collection ‘House to House |بيت لبيت’, an excerpt of which was published in the Asymptote Journal and taught in Japan, the US, and the UAE. Additionally, she was a member of the sixth cohort of the Salama Bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship. Shamma has co-founded  JARA Collective — an Abu Dhabi based chapbook press for experimental writing with sister presses in Bangalore, Paris, and New York. She is also a founding member of Untitled Chapters, a literary group for women Emirati writers, as well as an inaugural member of the Cultural Office Women’s Creative Network.    

Kaashif Hajee graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi in 2021, with a double-major in Social Research and Public Policy and Film and New Media. For his capstone, Kaashif wrote, directed, and edited a short narrative film titled Gair, which follows an Indian teenager and a Pakistani taxi driver in Abu Dhabi. At NYU Abu Dhabi, Kaashif wrote extensively about issues of social justice and Eurocentrism in the curriculum for The Gazelle, which he eventually led as co-Editor-in-Chief. An aspiring journalist, filmmaker and reluctant anthropologist, Kaashif wants to study Hindu Nationalism and its effects on minorities and cultural production in India. Currently, he is working as a Research Assistant to Dr. May Al-Dabbagh at Haraka Experimental Lab in the NYUAD Social Science Department. He calls Bombay home.

Nandini Kochar is a NYU Abu Dhabi Alumna who graduated with a double-degree in Social Research and Public Policy and Film and New Media in 2021. During her time at NYU Abu Dhabi, Nandini extensively studied and documented the migrant experience in the UAE, with a particular focus on expanding and problematizing reductive dominant narratives. She founded Humans of Abu Dhabi and served as UAE Columnist for The Gazelle. Her work has featured in The National and she was a recipient of the 2020 Shukran Cultural Appreciation Award. Nandini's capstone documentary explored the intersections of leisure, labor, and love in the lives of migrant mothers in Abu Dhabi. She is presently pursuing a fellowship with Teach For India where she teaches 67 10th grade students in a low-income public school in Bombay.

Lubnah Ansari dissects notions of personal and political questions with fervent curiosity. Utilizing her multidisciplinary skills, the artist and researcher engages with Hindu-Muslim households using feminist ethnographic frameworks. The NYU Abu Dhabi graduate has immersed herself in the roles of both the insider and the outsider, which gives her work a refreshing angle that urges you to tap into your compassion. She is currently part of The Assembly at Jameel Arts Center and is a post-graduate research fellow at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Sobha Gadi is an MPhil student in Politics (Comparative Government) at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, with a primary research interest in the long-run political consequences of disruptive historical events. He also maintains an interest in the study of political violence and ethnic politics. Sobha’s previous research has focused on the impact of sectarian violence on electoral outcomes for sectarian parties. He has also worked on a project investigating the relationship between democracy and violence, and on a project investigating nativist populism. His work is supported by the Clarendon Scholarship and a Nuffield College Award. Prior to his time at Nuffield College, Sobha majored in Social Research and Public Policy at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Born and raised in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and an aspiring New Yorker, Laura Assanmal graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi in 2021 with a degree in Social Research & Public Policy, and is now pursuing a PhD in Sociology of Education at NYU Steinhardt. During her time as an undergraduate, Laura engaged with on-campus ongoing efforts for consent education, facilitated interfaith and intercultural dialogue as part of NYUAD’s office of Spiritual Life and Intercultural Education, and served as co-Editor-in-Chief of The Gazelle, where she wrote extensively about consent, intimacy, and issues of income and class. As a culmination of her work, Laura’s capstone centered the experiences of survivors of sexual harm at NYU Abu Dhabi, where she explored how they conceptualize justice and accountability through interview-based qualitative work. She currently dwells on issues of research ethics, participatory action research, restorative justice, sexual and intimate violence, Title IX, and non-carceral responses to sexual harm.