Abdu’Allah’s ‘I Wanna Kill Sam’ on display at Tate Britain


Photo of Faisal Abdu'Allah
Abdu’Allah

Works by UW–Madison’s Faisal Abdu’Allah are included in Tate Britain’s new display, “Sixty Years: The Unfinished Conversation.”

Abdu’Allah, an internationally acclaimed artist and professor with the School of Education’s Art Department, is the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art and the associate dean of the arts in the School of Education.

“Sixty Years,” which opened on Oct. 13, is an annual display platform that examines work in the Tate’s collection from 1960 to the present day. This new version explores the nature of diasporic identity. Drawing upon the idea of cultural identity as a matter of becoming rather than simply being, the central concept of the display is that identities of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class resist coalescence around a single axis of differentiation and are constantly undergoing transformation.

Abdu’Allah’s “I Wanna Kill Sam” appears in a display at Tate Britain.

Abdu’Allah’s “I Wanna Kill Sam” series that is included in the display was inspired by a 1991 song by the hip hop artist Ice Cube of the same name. The song proclaims, “The army is the only way out for young, black teenagers… (because)/ …We’ll provide you with everything you need in life.”

This vow proves untrue, however. Ice Cube charges several offenses to “Uncle Sam” from breaking up black families under slavery to spreading HIV and drug use amongst them, and consequently, he ends the song by avenging to kill Sam because of this exploitation under false pretenses.

In his works, Abdu’Allah critically engages with Ice Cube’s account of U.S. army recruitment of African Americans to explicate British history, with Lord Kitchener, the secretary of state for war in the first years of World War I, appearing in the place of Uncle Sam. In 1914, Kitchener was featured on posters in a massive recruitment campaign, proclaiming “Britons, (Lord Kitchener) wants you — join your country’s army!”

In Abdu’Allah’s “I Wanna Kill Sam,” Lord Kitchener, like Uncle Sam in Ice Cube’s song, is identified as a harbinger of death.

Abdu’Allah’s “I Wanna Kill Sam” series was originally screen printed on steel in 1993. The Tate exhibition will display 19 original photographs on fiber-based, resin-coated paper.

Learn more about Tate Britain’s display, “Sixty Years: The Unfinished Conversation.”