What is nostalgia if not a kind of grief? Adam Farah-Saad uses symbols of his youth to mourn its passing. His 2021 show at Camden Art Centre had a fountain filled with Ka grape soda, Mariah Carey posters and a Virgin Megastore CD tower playing Sugababes and Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’. Farah-Saad reframes all these signifiers of youth, all this nostalgia, to create genuinely moving portraits of all the memories that make up our lives.
What would you say your art is about?
‘I have trouble claiming my art to be about this or that particular theme in any universalising kind of sense. I am not seen as a research/project based artist, although my artistic process is underlined with intense and nuanced forms of “research” which come from the navigation of my own life, past and present and future desires. I hope to give a chance for audiences to feel into the work and connect to it through their own life experiences. Therefore, although it might not be explicitly seen as a “queer practice” or “working-class practice” etc, it ends up being about all of those things and more, as it is an extension of a constant questioning of my own life as I move through it; through the places and the relationships and the emotions. Some people connect with the layered artistic manifestations of this journey that I put out there and value it, some people don’t.’
Who inspires you, what are your influences?
‘Mariah Carey, Brent Cross Shopping Centre, Grindr, my friends. I am a psycho-geographer at heart. So the city and navigating its architecture is a constant inspiration for me. I like long roads where the dynamic is constantly changing as you walk up and down them, like the Holloway Road, Edgware Road, Kilburn High Road, Green Lanes, Old Kent Road, Commercial Road. The artists who inspire me are the ones who aren’t afraid of walking their own path and being sincere and vulnerable, sometimes at the risk of being seen as ‘uncool’ or ‘unrefined’, like Mariah.’
What are the challenges of being an artist in London?
‘Everyone has different challenges. It feels as though native working-class Londoners are sometimes forgotten about as a thing that exists in the contemporary art world these days. I grew up in social housing throughout my life and did not make a choice to live in this city. Because of the economic struggles I’m facing as an artist, many people just tell me to move somewhere else. But this is my home, where I was born. I think I have a right to forge a life and sustainable career here, especially as the setting directly inspires it.’
What one thing could be done to better support young artists in London?
‘Curators and directors of both public institutions and commercial galleries need to be more intentional and at the same time experimental with how they find artists to work with, whilst thinking about how they can be supported to realise a potential. They should be reflecting curatorially on the question of how do you recognise the raw potential of a practice that hasn’t yet had the support to flourish? I think a more concrete thing that could be done which links to this, is for more residencies to be put in place. Artists need the space and resources to experiment in all forms, without having to justify why it will result in something socially valuable before it’s even made, otherwise everything eventually becomes exactly the same and only a certain type of artist and creative process is platformed.’
What would you do with the Turbine Hall?
‘Probably turn it into a dark room filled with lots of glory holes, or a gym, or a car boot/market, or all three. Maybe offer the sellers of Vauxhall/Nine Elms Market a residency in the space during the week and then on the weekends it turns into a sex club. But all within an architectural installation that speaks to all those aforementioned spaces and places which constantly inspire me. Art has stopped being fun, unless it's pure gimmick art like those immersive projection exhibitions (which aren’t fun). I want more art that is fun and serious and sincere and sexy and questioning and loose all at the same time.’
Selvi May Akyildiz, director of No.9 Cork Street says:
‘I first encountered Adam Farah-Saad’s work in November 2021. There was one work in particular that caught my eye, I AM FREE (FREE AM I MIX,) a blown-up photograph of the artist wearing a t-shirt given to him as a birthday present with printed lyrics from Mariah Carey’s song I am Free, written for her 1995 album Daydream. What draws me to Adam’s work is how he translates sensitivity, growth, pain and profound honesty into his artwork.’
This interview is part of Time Out's The Future of London Art series. Read more here.