Hamishi Farah is a self-taught artist, writer, and musician. Their practice is defined by a focus on the libidinal afterlife of coloniality and its permeation through contemporary art. Through painting, exhibitions, and writing, Farah excavates the complexity of Black representation, what the artist has referred to as “a site of reality-shaping conflict.”
In their 2020 solo exhibition Antagoni at Los Angeles’ Chateau Shatto, the artist presented five portraits of figures with their faces pigmented or obscured, and one of a yellowjacket wasp. In the paintings Joey and Matthew (both 2020), Farah captures the mugshots of two young white men who, in preparation for a burglary, attempted to conceal their identity by marking their faces with a black permanent marker. In Argyria Blue (the Ghost of Paul Karason) (2020), a blue-tinged figure appears to borrow from the Fauvists’ strident color palette. However, the painting depicts Paul Karason, who began ingesting homemade colloidal silver in 2007 to remedy a number of ailments. The silver turned his skin blue. After becoming a media sensation, Karason was mocked and alienated, and spent the final years of his life homeless.
These works were displayed alongside a second body of work made by the hand of Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal is a controversial self-styled “transracial” American who gained notoriety for passing as Black and for building a life and career on this racial deception. Her compositions exhibit brazen self-pity and remorselessness; the black-and-white charcoal drawing Drowning (2020) is a self-portrait of Dolezal swimming in the ocean, encircled by sharks. In the acrylic painting Back & White Cookie (2020), she wears a headwrap and holds a black-and-white cookie with one bite taken out. The maudlin works were ordered directly from Dolezal via Instagram, signed by Farah, and exhibited as readymades. Dolezal threatened to prosecute over the exhibition, accusing Farah of overreach, unlawful appropriation, and the willful co-opting of an artistic identity—a move that may strike some as ironic. Maneuvering within the exhibition format, Farah created a visual and discursive framework that boldly complicated the terrain of Black representation, leaving its signifiers tangled amidst questions of authorship, presentation, and color.
Farah’s practice is not limited to painting. In 2016, the artist was, without explanation, detained and eventually deported from Los Angeles International Airport. Farah narrativized the experience in Airport Love Theme, a graphic novel published by Book Works and edited by artist and writer Hannah Black. Airport Love Theme addresses complex subject matter—such as how immigration policies are predicated on neo-colonial hierarchies—with wit and humor. As the artist said in an interview with Tank Magazine, “I am not so interested in addressing power, but I am aware that it will be forced upon me. In the best case humor is a way out of that relation and at least it can be an epistemic resource in spite of it.”
While in residence in 2021, Farah hosted the fourth iteration of I Miss You Already, an occasional reading series that aims to celebrate community, care, and joyful assembly. Organized in collaboration with writer Harry Burke, the series has been held three times between 2014 and 2016. Farah’s 2021 residency at Callie’s followed their exhibition at Fri Art Kunsthalle Fribourg, Switzerland, and preceded their relocation to New York.
In June of 2022, Farah returned to Callie’s to work on a new series of paintings.