Abdu’Allah’s ‘The Barber’s Chair’ featured in ‘Artists Without Borders’ exhibition


The work of UW–Madison’s Faisal Abdu’Allah is featured in the exhibition, “Artists Without Borders: Reflections on Art and Place,” presented by the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA).

Faisal Abdu'Allah
Abdu’Allah

Abdu’Allah holds UW–Madison’s Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art, and is a professor with the School of Education’s Art Department.

The exhibition opened on April 24 at MOWA’s main building in West Bend, and is now showing at its downtown Milwaukee gallery, MOWA — DTN, located inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel through July 3.

For the exhibition, the museum asked nine Wisconsin artists to explore themes of immigration, identity, and belonging. Abdu’Allah’s work, the gold-plated “The Barber’s Chair,” evokes his boyhood in London, England, as the son of Jamaican immigrants.

“Once a month his father would take him to a house in the Willesden neighborhood belonging to Mr. Wright, a masterful barber,” a Wisconsin State Journal article about the exhibition explains.

The article continues: “In the back room was a barber chair surrounded by the elders of Abdu’Allah’s community, all awaiting haircuts while playing dominos, smoking, and drinking Heinekens — creating an entrée into a world of mystery for the young boy. Mr. Wright was ‘holding court,’ Abdu’Allah recalled.”

At Mr. Wright’s, “I came to understand my own identity and the borders (those men) had traversed,” Abdu’Allah said.

He also learned about the art of barbering, which he personally began practicing while in art school.

The barber chair and shop “is a sacrosanct, divine space where people come to prepare themselves for a funeral, a wedding,” and many of life’s rites of passage, he said.

Tyler Friedman, the director of collections, education, and research at MOWA, calls Abdu’Allah’s “The Barber’s Chair,” “a fantastic object that has such presence and drama.”

Read the Wisconsin State Journal article about the “Artists Without Borders” exhibition.