Faisal Abdu’llah has made some of the most complex, politically telling and aesthetically challenging works of the past decade in the United Kingdom. [...] Faisal’s work situates him as the earliest and most accessible single artist of a generation and provides a commentary on the manner in which visual images of Afro-British and Muslim communities, the aesthetic of violence, popular culture sensibility and film have played a critical role in the shaping of contemporary British imagination. What Faisal’s art reacts against is the general assumption that Afro-British artistic production cannot successfully reconcile social conscience with aesthetic viability. In his work, there is a sensibility that affords a gaze at an aesthetic grounded in both an analytic philosophy of popular culture and media and a Western art history.
Perhaps Faisal’s favorite theme has been his utilization of photographic representations and cinematic narrative to put forth a commentary on a general spectator’s relationship with topics including self-reflection, the search for social awareness and the confrontation of long-established assumptions and stereotypes. Faisal’s understanding and use of visual representations does not ignore the history and cultural contexts in which images, semantic and visual expressions originate – including the art world, popular culture or specific cultural traditions (British, Muslim, and Jamaican).
In the 1993 film “Six Degrees of Separation” two salient lessons surfaced: first, that you should not believe everything you see; and second, re-evaluate your life whenever you can. The structure of Adeve echoes these two important lessons as well as its title. Abdu’Allah replaced six with ten and created a simple arrangement from two rolls of ten photographs joined together in a row and displayed in a room transformed into a giant light box. Abdu’Allah used portraits of real human beings (his students and their acquaintances), as they ‘really look’ and as they change as a result of experiencing certain emotions.
The piece started when Abdu’Allah witnessed a public display of mutual care between two friends, Alex Fialho and Alan Holt. Moved by the visible closeness of their friendship and querying how many others were similarly connected to these two individuals, Abdu’Allah asked the students who they would most trust with their lives. Instead of saying the other, each referred to another person, creating a ripple effect and evidencing networks of friendships incomprehensible in their totality. Stringing together images of ten individuals connected through such networks of friendship, Abdu’Allah focused on the number 10 as representing a paradigm of friendship creation. He views the digit as containing all things and possibilities, symbolically represents the return to unity of one person and people around him. Recalling the Ten Commandments of the Decalogue (10 words) from his early experience within the Pentecostal faith, Abdu’Allah reinterpreted ten words as ten idiosyncratic portraits within a sequence of friends bound by the randomness of their friendship. Number ten in general Christianity represents the ten commitments bringing the concept back to defined degrees of separation, Abdu’Allah wondered whether the last person in the line of ten portraits would have any direct link to the first, whether an existing, separate association existed? He found this not to be the case, that at ten steps away from one another, the two individuals had nothing in common.
The exercise illustrated by these ten portraits bring out a concept often seen in the history of ideas, the creation of an artist’s work based on the artist’s internal perception and shaping of a real, material object or experience. For Abdu’Allah, the material object is the new physical environment he created in which his subjects experienced the photographic act. This space became an active component in the creating and experiencing of images, images which come to life through the light that glows through the backlit paper.
- Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz