The Islamic Museum of Australia recently opened a new exhibition devoted to artists with an Australian Muslim identity. The exhibition showcases 13 original works of art created within the last 12 months by talents coming from different communities. The objective is to demonstrate the diversity of the Australian Muslim experience
Australia, with a population approaching 26 million, is home to 600,000 Muslims who trace their cultural roots back to many countries around the world.
Indeed, its Muslim community is a microcosm of the cultural melting pot that is this southern land.
And it is this diversity of the Muslim community that is reflected in Australian Muslim Artists, an annual exhibition presented by the Islamic Museum of Australia, which showcases the talent of local creatives.
This year, the exhibition highlights the work of artists whose cultural backgrounds include Malay, Turkish, Iranian, Pakistani and Ethiopian. The subjects of the 13 exhibited works are as diverse as their artists and with no binding theme, other than being Australian and Muslim, the exhibition encompasses works inspired by lived experiences, homelands and faith, along with works that depict the human cost of war.
Thirty-three-year-old multidisciplinary artist Abdul Abdullah took home a prize of $15,000 this year as the recipient of the new Australian Muslim Artist Art Prize, supported by museum partner La Trobe University. Born in Australia’s western city of Perth, Abdullah is himself of mixed descent. While he is seventh generation Australian on his father’s side, he is also proudly of Malay heritage, thanks to his mother who hails from Johor on the Malay peninsula. A self-described ‘outsider amongst outsiders,’ Abdullah’s mixed cultural heritage has been the subject of his work.
You can call me troublesome from the series ‘Call me by my name’ (2018) is a manual embroidery that features a pensive young woman behind a scrawled smiley-face emoji.
Abdullah says, “In making the work I was concerned about the accusations directed at younger generations that they are not living up to the former generation’s expectations. In this embroidery, a young person looks out at the viewer from behind the superficially qualifying symbol of a smiley-face. The contrasting smiley-face icon and the figure lurking behind suggest a facade of joy, shielding the viewer from a deeper, more ominous truth concealed within the stoic sitter.”
At 150cm x 120cm, the work is certainly striking from a distance. The embroidered piece is so meticulously detailed that upon first sight, many museum visitors immediately assume it’s a painting. But a closer view brings an even greater appreciation for the work. Though the edging was embroidered with digital techniques, the bulk of the piece was created with manual embroidery.
Abdullah, who splits his time between Sydney and Yogyjakarta, Indonesia where he also has a studio, engaged DGTMB studios there to work with him on the ‘Call me by my name’ series, using a technique that was developed and honed by Eko Nugroho, one of Indonesia’s most accomplished contemporary artists.
Finalist Amber Hammad was born and raised in Pakistan, where she studied and taught art for many years before moving to Australia. Her art investigates her identity as a Muslim woman of colour from South Asia in relation to art history, popular culture, attire and gender.
Her work Veiling Unveiling in pencil on paper is adapted from Mughal miniature painting. Hammad advances the tradition of learning by practicing the art of miniature painting through copying old masters’ works and comments on the veiling and unveiling of the female body and space, as well as the veiling and unveiling of the archive and history. This work aims to evoke a sense that there is an omnipotent presence of history in our present and lessons to be learnt from the past, as we live in this highly digitalized world.
Iranian born Farnaz Dadfar, who hails from Tehran, moved to Australia nine years ago. She lists Islamic art and architecture and Persian Sufi poetry as sources of inspiration for her artistic practice.
For this exhibition, she created an adaptation of her work Infinite Spaces of the Beloved, which, with a diameter of around 8m, was too large to install.
Dadfar spent two days at the museum emblazoning a wall with Persian calligraphy, and of the work she said, “Infinite Spaces of the Beloved offers creative possibilities concerning spirituality and Islamic mysticism in contemporary art.
Through the lens of Rūmī’s poetry, the piece suggests existential exile and nomadic experiences of being located in hybrid cultural forms and languages. By activating meanings and nonsenses in using fragmented text and sound as a means of incarnating otherness, deterritorialisation, and displacement, the project imagines utopic alternatives to the dystopic realities of twenty-first century existence.
It is a piece the team at the museum have enjoyed immensely, not least because of the opportunity presented to engage with the artist and watch her bring her vision to life.
Motivated by the success of the exhibition, the team at the museum is already looking to 2020 and beyond. This exhibition attracts artists from all over the country, and it seems natural that their next goal is to tour Australian Muslim Artists, a move which again would prove fruitful for exhibiting artists by widening their reach and audience.
The museum also looks to further develop Future Australian Muslim Artists, another layer of the exhibition highlighting the work of high school art students. The museum views the younger generations as the future custodians of the museum itself, and Future Australian Muslim Artists is not only a way to harness the collective creative talent of young Muslims but is also a vehicle to encourage young Muslims to reflect on their identity and feel proud to have a space that celebrates their Islamic faith in a secular country.
Founder and Chair of the Museum Moustafa Fahour OAM says it’s important for the museum to embolden the creative community and provide a platform for artists to showcase their work with the wider community. In doing so, they also contribute to the museum’s mission of sharing the beauty of Australian Muslim artists and their contributions to Australia.