Ali explores the impact of translation and interpretation of language, and the power of language in relation to culture, identity, and colonisation, through a geopolitical lens. She states: 'My work explores cultural binaries, challenges culturally sanctioned oppression, and confronts the dualistic barriers of conflicting notions of gender, politics, media and citizenship.'Read More
Ali expresses the complexities of diasporic identity and the intersections of colonisation, migration, and imperialism in her photographic practice. In her series of staged portraits such as BORDERLAND (2017–ongoing), FLOW (2021), and INDIGO (2021), the artist explores identity through Indigenous textiles and textile production. Travelling widely to learn as much as possible about these textiles, including the patterns, pigments, dyeing, weaving, and the context of their production and makers, Ali subsequently produces photographs that feature anonymous figures draped in these brightly patterned fabrics, often against the backdrop of further clashing textiles. Dizzyingly kaleidescopic, Ali's images problematise the optic beauty of the materials through exposing their conflict-laden origins, and consider ideas of camouflage, erasure, and identity.
The Red Star (2020) brought together multiple works contemplating the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and the Yemeni diaspora. The exhibition's title refers to the country's socialist history as the People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen, but also to a significant Yemeni myth, where the descendants of Belquis, Queen of Saba'a/Sheba, inherit Mars, the Red Star. Ali states: 'Talking to Yemenis in the diaspora, I realised the story of the Red Star that we're told as children is something we all share. I thought this was profound: the idea that there could be something cosmic that pulls us together.'
Featuring video works Conflict Is More Profitable Than Peace (2019) and Mahjar (2020–2022), Ali incorporated references to the U.S. and Saudi Arabi in fragments, such as clips of the U.S. national anthem and photographs of Yemeni objects in American museums. In spite of these references, through which Ali acknowledges the U.S. and Saudi Arabia's impact on Yemen, the artist retains a sense of autonomy in presenting her vision of Yemeni identity, tradition, and history. Through The Red Star, Ali reclaims storytelling as a means to reconstruct a collective identity for diasporic Yemeni people, and envisages a more hopeful future for a community facing ongoing humanitarian crises.
Writing for ArtReview, Nadia Beard states: 'If the attempted colonial erasure of Africa's past gave rise to Afrofuturism, Ali's The Red Star might be thought of as a kind of Yemeni-futurism: present reality is dominated by an oppressive force; any thoughts of a future must be reimagined shorn of these. It's a kind of futurism that would distinguish itself from the lens of Arab Futurism, which, Ali says, flattens the particularities of life in cultures and communities across Arabia.'