“Artworks,” wrote the philosopher Alva Noe, “direct our attention to the complexity of experience, a complexity that we can easily overlook.” This is a perfect description of the new exhibit at the Adelaide Festival in 2018. Adelaide Festival, in which the primary focus is Islamic identities within their Australian context.
Waqt al-there: The Time of Change, which Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Nur Shkembi curated, is the first show by Eleven, a collective consisting of Muslim Australian contemporary art practitioners who reside in various parts of the country.
The exhibit of the exhibition at ACE Open (South Australia’s most prestigious modern art gallery) draws our attention to the variety and diversity of Australian Islamic experiences – and to the similarities.
Abdullah M. I. Syed, Aura II (2013) hand-stitched white prayer caps crocheted (topi), Perspex and LED light (127 (diameter) 54cm x 127cm; installation view. Sam Roberts Photography
The stunning works on display are rooted in the reality of their daily lives in present-day Australia. Based on their perspectives, the artists present it the way it is. These perspectives are rarely observed or heard in the pounding “white noise” that often is a barrier to the voices and perspectives of Muslim Australians.
Over the last two decades, western views of Islam have resulted in those belonging to the faith being seen as a homogenous group and often perceived as negative stereotypes.
Hoda Afshar’s work in digital photography taken from the Westoxicated series challenges these notions. Her visually flawless work mocks the way in which certain Australians view women with veiled faces as oppressed and demeaning.
Her five works cleverly deconstruct dominant media representations as well as the other iconography prevalent in our “Western gaze” (that judgmental gaze that adversely affects a large number of women who are veiled Islamic females).
However, the imagery and visual vocabulary behind her work reflect stereotypical images of “Western” women as seen on social media platforms like Facebook as well as Instagram. The unexpected juxtapositions she creates break expectations, leading to an alteration in perception in viewers.
The female character in these paintings is shown smoking and taking care of their Jack Russell terrier, acting as a toy gun-wielding anarchist heavily shaved and sporting “vamp” eyebrows, and sporting the cheesy Minnie Mouse ears (in which she is symbolically framed by dark yellow frame and enhancing the beautiful Islamic calligraphy, which is interlocked into geometric designs). The artist’s playful realism means that the work speaks to each Australian woman to some degree and offers an alternate narrative to conventional thinking.
Hoda Afshar’s work also criticizes the visual icons that are associated with subordinated Islamic women with an innocent yet effective weapon – Aussie comedy that combines satire, paradox, and satire.
Abdul Abdullah, Journey to the West (2017), digital print 75cm x 130 cm. The artist is the owner as well as Lisa Fehily Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
Abdul Abdullah’s visually stunning artwork Journey to the West is deeply moving in the sense of the topic. A supposedly martyred, tortured, and lonely humanoid, wearing the mask of a monkey (derived from Planet of the Apes), is shown in a lavish world. This is an analogy for the promises migrants receive to enjoy the “good life” in Australia; however, they must confront a completely different reality due to being rejected by society and, sometimes, even isolation.
Abdullah’s Wedding diptych (comprising two pieces with the spooky titles of Delegated Risk Management and Mutual Assurances) also provides opportunities for staging identity in the opulent wedding ceremony and a time when numerous people can be connected at a certain degree.