“I am a byproduct of the colonies, a ghost of the colonies.”
Perth artist Abdul Abdullah explores political and social issues felt by the marginalised portion of his generation. Siege, an exhibition of ten Type-C photographs at Fehily Contemporary from June 19, combines visual and written language to offer entry points into the ongoing discussion about cross-cultural interaction and the cultural anxiety shared by migrant communities in the West.
In the images, a male and a female figure (the artist and a close friend) stand before an ominous, impenetrable background with monkey masks covering their faces, blending with their skin tone. Their bodies are illuminated by dramatic, raking light that evokes at once classical art history and the dark drama of European cinema. Apart from their simian faces, these figures could be protagonists of a French film or part of a Caravaggio composition. Their stances and garb, however, come from documentation of the 2011 London riots and recent Arab uprisings. Some wear vestiges of Islam – a checkered keffiyeh, a white khimar, a t-shirt with Arabic writing. Some are nude. Others wear Western-style clothing.
The mask used comes from Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of ‘Planet of the Apes’. It draws a connection that Abdullah noticed between the original 1968 ‘Planet of the Apes’, where apes were chasing down wild humans on horseback, and a news item where the Mujahideen were shown riding across the Afghani desert with Kalashnikovs over their shoulders. Both scenarios depict the persecution of an abject other, a recurring theme within Abdullah’s work. To explore these themes of otherness and alienation, Abdullah draws on personal experience of having grown up as a Muslim Australian: ‘an outsider among outsiders’. Alongside this, Australian academics such as Waleed Aly, and international writers and activists like Franz Fannon and Michael Muhammad Knight have influenced the development of his ideas.
When read in order, the titles of the works in Siege combine to read as a poem that distills the conceptual thrust of this body of work and guides the viewer along the edges of certain philosophical and personal propositions. Of this technique, Abdullah says: “When I am preparing a work, often the title will come before the image. The photographs present a series of signifiers, but the titles direct the viewer to my agenda. It can harden or soften a work. The ten-line poem starts off with an accusatory line, ‘you see monsters’. My intention is to provoke and then to demonstrate the ‘why’, finishing with an optimistic line, ‘for peace’. But even in this last image there is provocation, and more questions than answers.”
Abdul Abdullah: Siege, Wed to Sat 11am-5.30pm until 12 July 2014; Fehily Contemporary, 3a Glasshouse Road, Collingwood; (03) 9017 0860, fehilycontemporary.com.au