Waqt al-tagheer: time of change

ACE Open, Adelaide, March 3 – April 21, 2018

Milk of Millenia
For hundreds of thousands of years I have been dustgrains
floating and flying in the will of the air,
often forgetting ever being
in that state, but in sleep
I migrate back. I spring loose
from the four-branched, time-and- space cross,
this waiting room.
– Jaluldeen Rumi

Waqt al-tagheer: Time of change employs the meeting of time and space to explore the
individual experiences of specific years or time frames – whether current, recent or historical – which have altered personal understandings of being. Each artist in this exhibition brings alternate histories that have defined or redefined them; be that through migration, exile, social and political upheaval or fundamental realisations that have characterised how they see themselves and perceive the world around them. Functioning in a broader Australian context that consistently seeks to politicise the artist’s identities, the exhibition provides a platform to collectively voice some of the complexities within the Muslim Australian experience. Ideas of ‘national identity’ often confound alternative versions of history and are commonly defined and sustained through time in the way of the commemoration of specific events such as the First Fleet, 1788; Federation of Australia, 1901; the Gallipoli Landing, 1915, with the nation’s patriotic fervour further elicited in such events as the Australian Bicentenary, 1988;
and Sydney Olympics, 2000. Waqt al-tagheer thereby parallels the notion of a sanctioned
narrative, focusing on the personal consequences of particular events and time frames within Australia and around the world from an individual perspective, sometimes intertwining with such national or global events, but also include that of the deeply personal, the hidden or of the Divine. Within this engagement with time and space, we can witness the experiences of the human condition beyond the apparent to grapple with the poetic, disturbing, beautiful and fractured realities of one another.

Curated by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Nur Shkembi.

Journey to the West (2017)
archival print
75 x 130cm.
Courtesy the artist and Lisa Fehily Contemporary Art.

“In this self-portrait I have reprised elements from previous series: Siege (2014) and Coming to terms (2015). Again I am wearing the ape mask from Planet of apes (2001) that for me speaks to how I imagine I am perceived as the monstrous, threatening and villainous ‘other’. On this occasion the title of the work refers to the 16th century Chinese novel attributed to Wu Cheng’en that tells of a monk being accompanied by three disciples to retrieve Buddhist documents from Central Asia. Arthur Waley’s abridged English is titled ‘Monkey’, prioritizing the disciple Sun Wukong, also known as the ‘Monkey King’. The story of the Monkey King has permeated through East Asian cultural forms and still consistently appears in traditional Indonesian theatre and in contemporary Japanese anime like ‘Dragon Ball’.

In my version of Journey to The West, I as the monkey king sit alone, monstrous, but
surrounded by opulence, contemplating the journey that awaits me. ‘The West’ in this work is capitalised to refer to the current politicised definition. I sit in the richness of a culture anticipating venturing into a place that will only see me as something ugly and bad.”

Aura II (2013)
hand-stitched white crocheted prayer caps (topi), Perspex and LED light
127 (diameter) x 54cm.
Courtesy the artist.

Abdullah M.I. Syed
Untitled object(s) (2018-)
woven hand-cut and shredded U.S. dollar bills
dimensions variable.
Courtesy the artist.

“Time is not a linear measurement of history, events, or an experience for me. As identified by Muslim philosopher Ibn Hazm, time is composed of finite instants that have beginnings. In this regard, my artworks are a snapshot of my diverse lived experiences growing up in Pakistan and later as a Muslim immigrant to the U.S. and Australia. Spanning over decades and toeing a fine line in terms of connectivity and differentiability, some of my significant memories include my childhood fascination with the full moon, visits to the Holy mosque of Mecca, first political rally, first life drawing lesson, the experience of post-9/11 fear and anxiety, and the reminder of my colonial past as part of the South-Asian Muslim diaspora in Australia. Each instant has had a profound and immeasurable effect upon my life and thinking.

In my art practice, I see such events and their memories as temporal currency that produces religious, political and cultural identifies. I use infinite structures and endless patterns of light and shadow to poetically ground these identities, therefore rendering time visible. The tactile sensation of the material and the movement of light give a sense of the ephemeral. The combined effect of the presented works creates an open narrative that places the audience at the heart, inviting them to speculate, contemplate, and reflect on their own infinite beginnings.”

musallah (2017)
pierced copper
180 x 180 x 30cm.
Courtesy the artist.

“musallah (2017) is a work that responds directly to the oldest standing mosque located in Broken Hill, New South Wales. The mosque is situated on the site of the former ‘camel camp’ where Afghan and Indian camel drivers loaded and unloaded their camel teams, from the earliest day of Broken Hill. The site and its history are part of reinterpretation of Muslimhood within contemporary, cross-cultural Australian communities. A translated landscape along these ideas intrigues me – representations of Australian identities only just touch the surface of the diversity of communities who have found a home here.

Formed from sheet copper and pierced traditionally by hand, musallah draws direct links to the relationship of the first Afghan settles to the land and their experiences of transience to our relationship to the landscape and currents to our own familiar environments. In this country, we rarely see ourselves as having legitimate roots and the story and heritage of the Afghan cameleers defies the erasure of our identity as Muslims in transnational settings. In direct dialogue between the urban with the rural, musallah bridges across distance and geography, bring to the public the interconnectivity of cultural synchronism within Australia’s Muslim communities.”

The Arrivals #1 (2016)
cotton, wool and gold leaf
160 x 130cm.
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery.

Khadim Ali
Untitled (Transitions/Evacuations series) (2015)
gouache, watercolour and gold leaf on wasli paper
71.5 x 58cm.
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery.

“War produces innumerable wounds, leaving scars of destruction that are carried through generations. It destroys and deconstructs societies and disrupts the sphere of time. In its displacement by war, the human body becomes the site of trauma and loss. It is exposed to harsh environments and a torrid political atmosphere. This displaced body has a name; refugee.

The effects of the refugee’s fragmented journey differ from person to person. But in almost every case the inner spirit is numbed, forcing memories to be forgotten. The smell of home, the scent of love, the delicacy of identity and the fluency of language are erased by the trauma of loss.

In our time, political circumstances and misrepresentation has painted these displaced souls as being beyond humanity. Even though they are merely attempting to escape the
catastrophe of war, they are portrayed as demons (that is being other than human) who
threaten the social order. In doing so, our society represses the forlorn hope of human beings who have endured the very limits of survival, ignoring that they seek little more than peace. What is at stake in how we treat them is not just their humanity, but ours.

The Arrivals seeks to give vision to this contemporary theatre of the absurd.”

Under Western Eyes series (2013-2014)

Westoxicated #1 (2013)
digital print
105 x 92cm.

Westoxicated #3 (2013)
digital print
105 x 92cm.

Westoxicated #5 (2014)
digital print
105 x 92cm.

Westoxicated #7 (2014)
digital print
105 x 92cm.

Westoxicated #9 (2014)
digital print
105 x 92cm.
All works courtesy the artist.

“Under Western Eyes (2013-2014) is a series of manipulated studio photographs that combine, in pop-art style, familiar signs of Islamic identity to challenge the dominant representations of Islamic women that circulate in Western art galleries. Through pastiche and redeployment of these familiar signifiers, this series attempts to locate the origin of these representations, and the reason for their predictability, in the Western gaze. Thus, these images aim to critique, through mirroring back, a certain audience expectation and desire in relation to how ‘the female Islamic subject’ is seen; for it is this expectation that partially explains the recurrence of the same few signifying elements in the works of Middle Eastern artists—above all the veil. The central idea, then, is that such (self) representations often depend on, and thus re-produce, familiar signs of ‘otherness’ that cater to Western viewers’ and the art markets’ demand for ‘Islamic’ artworks that highlight their cultural difference in safe and predictable ways. At the same time, such representations also serve to position the Islamic subject in relatively fixed ways vis-à- vis the ideal type of Western viewer. She is oppressed, tradition-bound, and inferior, but secretly—beneath the veil—‘just like me’: i.e. fashion-loving, rebellious, and sexually-free.”

500 Books (2018)
carved wood, oil paint, aluminium leaf
95 x 110 x 115cm.
Courtesy the artist and Moore Contemporary.

“In the summer of 1988 I was eleven years old. One morning I wandered into the garage and found what I thought was a large box covered in an old bed sheet. Being a curious kid, I pulled back the sheet to reveal a neat stack of 500 identical books. Dad had rescued the last remaining copies of a Sufi text first printed in 1977 from being pulped after the publishers had struggled to cover the cost of re-printing. I was an avid reader but I’d never considered a book as one of many, a unit of information that could be distributed, contained or destroyed. This stack was every copy of the book in existence, an idea so large yet small enough to be stored under a bed sheet in a suburban garage in Perth. I’ve kept a copy since then, waiting until I was ready to read it.”

Sweetly Moulded (2012)
hand-cut Perspex
25 x 11 x 4cm each (6 pieces).
Courtesy the artist.

“This work is inspired by the moulds used to create traditional Arabic sweets called Mamoul that is served on special occasions such as Eid. The act of repetition to create the same decorative sweets on mass by women is symbolic of the pressures women face to conform to restrictive gender roles and the ideal of ‘perfection’. These moulds are faceless portraits representing the women in my life as well as personal symbols connected to my heritage. I use layers of hand cut mirror Perspex to create the layers and depth of the mould and to reflect the image back to the viewer.”


Safdar Ahmed
The Subjective Xenophobe (2018)
Virtual Reality (VR) head mounted display set and three-dimensional graphic animation
displayed on monitor
2 x 4m.
VR technical assistance: Warren Armstrong
Courtesy the artist.

“The Subjective Xenophobe (2018) engages the technologies of virtual reality, ambient sound art and the densely-hatched drawing style of underground comix to critically address the rhetoric of contemporary Islamophobia, as yoked to the anti-immigration discourse in Australia. The work immerses the viewer in an imagination of the future – a post-apocalyptic, dystopian space; featuring a life-sized scan of the artist in various stages of dissolution. The near (but not quite) human appearance created by VR reproduction reflects the quixotic, subjective nature of contemporary xenophobia, evoking Masahiro Mori’s theory of ‘Bukimi No Tani’, or ‘The Valley of Eeriness’ to reflect the ‘othering’ that fuels anti-Muslim xenophobia.”

Delegated Risk Management (2017)
archival print
100 x 154cm.
Courtesy the artist and Lisa Fehily Contemporary Art.

Abdul Abdullah
Mutual Assurances (2017)
archival print
100 x 232cm.
Courtesy the artist and Lisa Fehily Contemporary Art.

“In this new Wedding series, I have developed and expanded the ideas presented my 2015 series: Coming to terms. Taking the ritual of a wedding that is broadly understood across cultures, I have subverted traditional imagery with atypical lighting and the use of balaclavas on my subjects. The specific lighting techniques used to illuminate these wedding stages emulates styles and combinations used in science fiction and horror films, and music videos. The balaclavas on the subjects speak to the projection of criminality on innocent bodies. By combining these elements the intention of the work is to critically examine how the reality of the actions and beliefs of an individual is often irrelevant to how they are perceived if they belong to, or are perceived to belong to a marginalised minority. The titles in Wedding series are borrowed from generalised approximations of the language of the commerce and finance industry. In using these titles I’m speaking to another layer of dehumanisation that occurs when people are denied the complexity and specificity of an individual identity.”

With my sister (2018)
vinyl lettering
dimensions variable.
Courtesy the artist.

With my sister (2018) highlights the stark disconnection between my growing and deeply personal relationship with Allah, Al-Malik, and the public horror of September 11; the ensuing years of Islamophobia and the impact of that event being broadcast and immortalised through television and other media. Having converted to Islam less than five months after September 11, the events may not have impacted me spiritually, but they heralded an atmosphere of Islamophobia that has indeed touched us all.”

At the Speed of Light (2016)
11-channel HD video installation with audio, 25 gold leaf, acrylic and enamel paint works on photographic paper, 100 copies (each) of 5 multilingual texts on paper
dimensions variable.
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery.

“Kashf is a Sufi concept dealing with knowledge of the heart rather than the intellect. Kashf describes the state of experiencing a personal divine revelation after ascending through struggles of the heart. Kashf is etymologically related to mukashafa, a disclosure of divine irradiation of the essence, which connotes gaining familiarity with unseen realms.

In Sufism it is very difficult to explain the true meaning of the Arabic word Nur and in the Qur’an the Divine describes Itself as being Nur. We are taught that ‘Light is the purest entity that exists’ and that there are different realms and worlds around us that each have complete function and existence.

Muslims believe in the existence of Angels and Angels are part of the unseen realm. Prophet Muhammad PBUH, said Angels are created from light and that physical light is only a reflection of the true Light, which one can only think about in terms of their experience in the phenomenal world.

Having considered these teachings and the facts that, physical light is limited by the virtue of its physical nature and is dependent on all energy, space and time; I propose the question, that if we are able to travel at the speed of light? Will we enter and interact with unseen realms?”

We are all affected

The Big Anxiety 

Fairfield Museum and Gallery, September 21 – November 11, 2017

Peacock Gallery, September 23 – November 11, 2017

Multicultural Eid Festival

Fairfield Showground, July 9, 2017

We Are All Affected Catalogue

We Are All Affected was commissioned for The Big Anxiety and this is Part 2 of a series of multifaceted exhibitions being held across Western Sydney. Part 1 was held at the Multicultural Eid Festival in Fairfield in July 2017; this was an experimental pop-up style exhibition designed to engage members of the community through an interactive experience with the artists and their works. What followed was an evolution of these works in response to the community. We Are All Affected spanned two venues, Fairfield City Museum & Gallery and Peacock Gallery & Auburn Studios where the artists share their creative interpretation of what is fast becoming a culturally specific form of anxiety.

Within the collection of works on display, which include photography, video installations, sculptures, ceramics and interactive/experimental practice, We Are All Affected essentially places these conversations into the heart of our community. With this timely and topical exhibition, there is a unique opportunity to follow these works as they evolved and later relocated to the gallery spaces of Auburn and Fairfield for part two of the exhibition series.

The communion of voice and the intimate nature of experiences related to anxiety, as shared through the contemporary practice of the artists, is both an act of vulnerability and affirmation; one which invokes a type of creative reflection or reclamation of the often negatively framed public conversations about Australian Muslims. With these often very personal and critical reflections, the artists and writers contributing to this exhibition hope to offer new ways of seeing and understanding through the universal language of the arts.

IMG_2924IMG_2925P_20170915_175754Peacock Gallery, Auburn

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