Salman Toor: How Will I Know

Nov 13, 2020–Apr 4, 2021

For his first museum solo exhibition, Salman Toor (b. 1983) presents new and recent oil paintings. Known for his small-scale figurative works that combine academic technique and a quick, sketch-like style, Toor offers intimate views into the imagined lives of young, queer Brown men residing between New York City and South Asia. Recurring color palettes and references to art history heighten the emotional impact of Toor’s paintings and add a fantastical element to his narratives drawn from lived experience. 

Lush interior scenes depict friends dancing, playing with puppies, and gazing into their smartphones. In these idealistic settings, Toor’s figures are freed from the impositions placed upon them by the outside world. In contrast, his more muted tableaus highlight moments of passivity to convey nostalgia or alienation. One painting features a forlorn man whose possessions are on display for the scrutiny of airport security officers; another renders unspoken tensions around a family dinner table palpable. Taken as a whole, Toor’s paintings consider vulnerability within contemporary public and private life and the notion of community in the context of queer, diasporic identity. 

Salman Toor: How Will I Know is organized by Christopher Y. Lew, Nancy and Fred Poses Curator, and Ambika Trasi, curatorial assistant.

Salman Toor: How Will I Know is part of the Whitney’s emerging artists program, sponsored by


Generous support is provided by Further Forward Foundation, the John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation, and the Manitou Fund.

Additional support is provided by the Artists Council, Luhring Augustine, and Graham Steele and Ulysses de Santi.


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Audio guides

“We took this title because, not only was it a song that I really like dancing to, but it also had a deeper resonance, thinking about the future.” —Salman Toor

Hear from Salman Toor about the work in the exhibition.

View guide

Explore works from this exhibition
in the Whitney's collection

View 4 works

In the News

"Toor is experiencing a massive moment" —W Magazine

"Toor offers intimate views into the imagined lives of young, queer Brown men residing between New York City and South Asia." Vogue

"Salman Toor belongs to a new generation of figurative painters who use their brushstrokes to unravel realities and utopias faced by communities that help them shape their identities." —Galerie

"Pakistani-origin, New York-based artist Salman Toor wants to paint a world where the East and West harmonise" GQ India

"Toor’s canvases excite and pique interest with every stroke."—Observer

"Salman Toor’s first solo exhibition . . . is a tribute to those with identities that escape boundaries and binaries."—WNET All Arts

"[Toor's] complex narratives invite a thoughtful dialogue about contemporary queer life."—Forbes

"Salman Toor’s absorbing show at the Whitney depicts the pleasures, tensions, and small moments of gay life."—New York Review of Books

"How Will I Know is a chronicle of the making and unmaking of queer, diasporic identity."—Hyperallergic

"Toor’s scenes of closeness and spontaneous encounter, his renderings of a community (or demimonde), real or imagined, strike a powerful note of something like nostalgia."—4Columns

"As the dozen or so works in How Will I Know will demonstrate, [Toor’s] work seems closer in some ways to, say, Van Gogh’s early paintings"—The New York Times

"Salman Toor lives, and paints, between worlds"—Vulture

"Toor joins a cohort of queer figurative artists negotiating the history of painting and the contemporary developments that condition their subjectivity."—Frieze

"[This] gorgeous show . . . explores the concept of community within the context of a queer, diasporic identity."—NBC News

"The paintings invite us in as we scan over them: dashes of emerald vibrate, cloud-grey lines illuminate, tawny marks speak."—Brooklyn Rail