Faisal Abdu’Allah, an internationally acclaimed artist and professor with the School of Education’s Art Department, has been chosen as UW-Madison’s next recipient of the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art.
Abdu’Allah, who grew up in London, was enjoying a successful professional career as an artist when he was invited to UW–Madison in 2013 to work on campus as the Arts Institute’s Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence. He was then invited to return to UW–Madison in the fall of 2014 to join the Art Department as a faculty member, and has become a highly regarded educator and mentor.
“Faisal Abdu’Allah has established himself not only as a groundbreaking and respected artist who has shown his work across the world, but he has also proven himself to be an outstanding teacher to our students at UW–Madison,” says School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “I am so pleased to announce that Faisal is receiving the prestigious Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art.”
Abdu’Allah is a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, where he was trained as a printmaker. His work often evolves out of the interface of photography, printed media, film, installation, and performance. This art has been exhibited widely, including at: the National Maritime Museum London (2020); Foto Fest, Houston (2020); Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Gran Canaria, Spain (2019); Somerset House, London; Pā Rongorongo, Auckland, New Zealand (2019); and the 55th Venice Biennale, Italy (2013). His works are also in the collections of Tate Britain (London), the V&A (London), the Chazen Museum (UW–Madison), CAAM (Gran Canaria, Spain), and the British Arts Council.
Abdu’Allah, who also is a barber, is currently being featured in Red Bull Television’s “The Fade.” A preview of the film explains how “the barber’s chair can mean so much more than a simple shave or haircut. Barbers from the U.S., UK, Ghana, and Jamaica show how their profession helps define culture, community, and masculinity.”
Abdu’Allah is also working on launching upcoming projects with Sir David Adjaye, the Ghanaian-British architect, and Quarra Stone Company in Madison. This work will be showcased in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA). In the past, he has collaborated with fashion designer Virgil Abloh and choreographer Frank Gatson Jr. He also has written articles for Artimage, Te Tuhi, and Create London.
In addition to being a faculty member with UW–Madison’s Art Department, Abdu’Allah also is faculty director of The Studio, a residential learning community at UW–Madison. He is an honorary visiting professor at the University of Bedfordshire (United Kingdom).
“Faisal Abdu’Allah is an artist who works in printmaking, photography, performance, and sculpture. He is genuinely interdisciplinary with his creative output in prints, photographs, installations, and performances,” says UW–Madison’s Derrick Buisch, a professor and chair of the Art Department. “Abdu’Allah is well versed in the international conversation of contemporary art. His work addresses resonant political and social themes with poetic depth. His future creative research is exciting, with excellent potential for generating more innovative and original works.”
“His regular international exhibitions are clear evidence of his visibility and commitment,” adds Buisch. “He is an excellent role model for our students of professional engagement with visual art in the field. His knowledge of various printmaking methods and processes is invaluable. He works with a diverse range of undergraduate and graduate students within and outside of the Art Department.”
One project Abdu’Allah has led during his time in Madison is FauHaus — a community based learning program for at-risk and court-involved teens who are overwhelmingly low-income youth of color. The teens have worked with Abdu’Allah and colleagues to collaboratively develop socially engaged art exhibitions through weekly workshops and an artist-in-residence opportunity.
“Everywhere I travel, the rubric is the same,” Abdu’Allah said in a 2018 interview about the FauHaus project. “I’ll meet a group of students less fortunate than myself and think, ‘If it weren’t for my strong family structure growing up, that could have been me.’ ”
Abdu’Allah’s efforts in this realm center on utilizing the arts to connect with young people, nurture their creativity and confidence, and help give them a voice. This work often engages racial disparities through the lens of equity and diversity.
“Anyone with support will fly,” he says. “Instead of watching young people become a representation of what some members of society expect, it’s important to help people become the very best of themselves.”
Abdu’Allah, who grew up in the United Kingdom as the child of Jamaican immigrants, also brings a unique global lens to his work and the students he works with on campus.
“If I’m preparing my students to be successful, I have to set them up to think as citizens of the world,” says Abdu’Allah, who is the current president of the Southern Graphic Council International.
More than a decade ago, distinguished UW-Madison alumni Jerome and Simona Chazen made a $20 million donation in support of the university’s art museum expansion. Formerly known as the Elvehjem Museum of Art, the institution was renamed in honor of the Chazens.
It was September 2015 when the couple pledged another $28 million gift to their alma mater, in the form of several valuable pieces of art from their private collection, an additional gift of $5 million for the Chazen Museum building, and $3 million to establish both the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art and the Simona and Jerome Chazen Distinguished Chair in Art History.
“Artists continue to be the vanguards and shapers of social consciousness formed out of a sense of duty to high ideals,” says Abdu’Allah. “Receiving the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art will open up a realm of infinite possibilities.”