2015 was nothing short of a watershed year for Perth-born Abdul Abdullah. After relocating to Sydney in January to undertake masters study, he and his work were, seemingly, everywhere. He was selected for Primavera 2015, the Asia Pacific Triennial, PICA Salon and Hong Kong’s Sovereign Art Prize. He exhibited at Sydney Contemporary, at the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Art15 in London and Video Stage at Art Stage Singapore, and undertook speaking engagements including TEDX Youth at the Sydney Opera House. The Art Gallery of Western Australia chose Abdullah and elder brother Abdul-Rahman to launch its new WA Focus series with a duo exhibition, purchasing five of the works for its collection, while the artist held his first international solo show, Coming to Terms, at New York’s Chasm Gallery, following on the heels of a group residency in the United Kingdom.
For anyone not already familiar, Abdullah’s practice critiques religious and racial marginalisation, a response to his experiences growing up Muslim in post-9/11, post-Hanson Australia, frequently called upon to justify or defend his place here despite being a seventh-generation Australian. His highly staged, often darkly comedic photographs frequently employ his own tattooed, muscular body, adorned with various costumes and props to camp on Western culture’s historical fetishisation and fear of the Islamic subject. His accomplished painted portraits grant his (largely) Aboriginal, Eurasian and Muslim subjects heroic status, as in his third Archibald-shortlisted work, 2014’s portrait of Richard Bell.
Though his practice is rooted in a very Australian experience, the sale of numerous works to British and American collectors via last year’s New York and London showings evidences Abdullah’s increasingly international appeal. His work-in-development for the upcoming Basil Sellers Art Prize references Muhammad Ali’s 1968 appearance on Firing Line, in which the boxer discussed his Islamic faith and virulent opposition to the Vietnam War. It was “one of the first times in popular contemporary television media that Islam as a religion was emphasised as an immediate threat to American/Australian/British concerns,” Abdullah explains. The Basil Sellers Art Prize opens in July. Other 2016 highlights include projects for Nextwave and Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery and a solo show with his representing gallery Fehily Contemporary in Melbourne.
IMAGES COURTESY: THE ARTIST AND FEHILY CONTEMPORARY, MELBOURNE