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Faisal Abdu’Allah

Born, 1969 in London, UK

Faisal Abdu’Allah was born in London in 1969, and graduated from the Royal College of Art in the early 1990s. From his earliest times as a practising and exhibiting artist he has commanded widespread respect and critical acclaim for the distinctive, engaging and thoroughly contemporary ways in which he handles and presents the Black image and the Black subject. His exhibitions have been presented in a wide range of galleries and he has worked with many different curators, including Bisi Silva, who presented an exhibition of his work entitled Heads of State in the mid 1990s. Alongside his gallery work, Abdu’Allah has undertaken a significant number of site-specific installations and visual arts projects across the country and beyond.

Abdu’Allah’s work is emphatically reflective of the cultural and political influences that have shaped a generation of Black British people for whom Black urban American street style, language, aesthetics and music were profound and critical influences, as these youngsters came of age. In looking at Abdu’Allah’s work, Black Atlantic and other diasporic sensibilities are consistently discernible.

His first exhibition, titled Censored, From Nigger to Nubian, took place at the 198 Gallery, in south London, in 1993. It consisted of a series of works - screen prints on etched steel – that were to become something of his trademark. One particularly imposing series consisted of five full-length portraits of young Black men, printed on oversize sheets of steel. The work was at once gritty and contemporary, and, despite the unquestionable power and strength of the portraits, the work was simultaneously enigmatic and understated. In this regard, steel was a singularly original and appropriate medium on which to screen-print the images. Steel is a material that, in its making, is quite literally forged in the fire. And yet, upon manufacture, can acquire a cool, minimal, and decidedly modernist aesthetic. The images of the young Black men all provocatively engaged with, or oscillated between, rap iconography and the objectification of young Black males as having a close proximity to criminality, deviance, and threat. Within this work, the artist appropriated iconography from popular culture in an attempt to question particular pathologies – both spoken and unspoken – relating to media and other representations of the young Black male.

Another one of the works in this exhibition consisted of two screen prints of a hooded young Black man, his facial features hidden from view by the hood’s shadow. The man is located in a background that signifies an urban, concrete jungle environment. Across the horizontal sheet of steel are etched the words – continually repeated – Fuck the Police. The words are derived from the celebrated song ‘Fuck da Police’ by N.W.A. that had been released several years earlier. The song railed against police brutality and the racism it signified. As such, for Abdu’Allah, it presented itself as an ideal vehicle to reflect what were arguably similar resentments on this side of the Atlantic.

Abdu’Allah’s work reflects an intense interest in the power of the photographic image in channelling, as well as challenging, certain pathologies. In this regard, his work could justifiably be said to centre on Afrocentric positioning of ongoing debates about race and representation. His work and research have taken him outside of the UK on many occasions, reflecting not only an acute sense of diaspora within his work, but also reflecting a keen awareness of the ways in which geographical and other boundaries need to be challenged in his quest for maturity as an artist and as a Black man.

A particularly photogenic and media-savvy personality, Abdu’Allah, has carved out for himself a substantial place in the landscape of visual arts practice in 21st century London. The intellectual depth, integrity, and consistent originality of his work mark him out as a hugely important and relevant artist. The role of Black people in society, in history, in art, and in numerous other spheres, is of central importance to Abdu’Allah. Another of his much-celebrated works was a sizeable reworking of the symbolism of the image of the Last Supper. In Abdu’Allah’s reworking, commissioned by Autograph, the figures are made over to reflect the artist’s own identity as a Muslim, as well as his critique of the ways in which Black people – both men and women – have been largely excised from mainstream narratives. Like much of his work, his rendering of the Last Supper boldly challenges the viewer, as well as presenting its audience with a masterfully executed, intriguing, grand visual narrative.

Faisal Abdu’Allah combines his artistic practice with his work as a barber, maintaining a barbershop in north London. The two activities are not, however, mutually exclusive and a significant number of his projects and pieces reflect a pronounced interplay between his work as a barber and his work as an artist.

Abdu’Allah secured an MA from the Royal College of Art in 1991. It was his association with the RCA that earned him a place in RCA Black, held at the RCA, 31 August - 6 September 2011. The exhibition featured contributions by a number of Black artists who had studied at the RCA over the course of several decades.

His website is www.faisalabduallah.com.

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click to show details of The Browning of Britannia

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Brochure relating to an exhibition, 2008

click to show details of Law and order on new show’s agenda

»  Law and order on new show’s agenda

Review relating to an exhibition, 1994

click to show details of RCA Black

»  RCA Black

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2011

click to show details of Transforming the Crown

»  Transforming the Crown

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

click to show details of Us an’ Dem (Us and Them) - press release

»  Us an’ Dem (Us and Them) - press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1994

Related exhibitions + view all 7

»  Us an’ Dem

Group show at The Storey Institute. 1994

Related venues + view all 9

»  BFI Southbank Gallery

London, United Kingdom

»  The Bronx Museum of the Arts

United States of America

»  Caribbean Cultural Center

United States of America

»  The Storey Institute

Lancaster, United Kingdom

»  Studio Museum in Harlem

New York, United States of America