MMOCA receives significant grant supporting fall exhibition of work by UW–Madison’s Abdu’Allah

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMOCA) has been selected for a significant grant award from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts that will support DARK MATTER, a fall 2022 exhibition of work by UW–Madison’s Faisal Abdu’Allah.

Photo of Faisal Abdu'Allah

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.

DARK MATTER, opening Sept. 17, 2022, explores cultural representation and the systems of power that structure our experiences of the world.

The exhibition includes a selection of Abdu’Allah’s most celebrated series, as well as a reconstruction of his work, “Garden of Eden” (2003), an architectural installation the artist created in collaboration with renowned architect Sir David Adjaye. Exploring issues of privilege, exclusion, and the voyeuristic gaze, this interactive piece separates visitors based on genetic traits — in this case, eye color — in order to undermine our perceptions of difference and alienation. With “Garden of Eden,” Abdu’Allah points to the privileges conferred to certain people based on the nuances of their genetic matter.

DARK MATTER will also feature a counter-monument by Abdu’Allah, which he first conceived of several years ago in response to debates about the role of monuments and their removal from public view. His solution was to commission artists of color to create new monuments that represent their own aesthetics, histories, and experiences.

Faisal Abdu'Allah with Italian sculptor Martin Foot working on
Abdu’Allah with Italian sculptor Martin Foot working on “Blu³eprint,” a seven-foot counter-monument he conceived that will be publicly displayed at MMOCA this fall. (Photo by Jim Escalante)

Commissioned by MMoCA, Abdu’Allah’s “Blu³eprint” was realized in collaboration with the fine arts team at Quarra Stone Company in Madison and Italy-based master stone carver and sculptor Martin Foot. The seven-foot, limestone sculpture — depicting Abdu’Allah in a barber’s chair — will be prominently placed at MMoCA as a public work of art.

For Abdu’Allah, every part of the sculpture holds meaning, he told The Capital Times recently. The letter U to the power of three in the title is a symbol of the Zulu term “ubuntu,” sometimes translated as, “I am because we are.”

“It’s more of a philosophical way of looking at yourself,” Abdu’Allah said. “You are who you are through the contribution of other individuals, whether that be society, family, education, love, joy, or discrimination. This is symbolic of everything that has brought my being to where we’re at now.”

Abdu’Allah sits in a barber’s chair as a reflection of his experience cutting hair — which he did for many years in London before coming to the United States. “The symbolism of hair is often included throughout his artwork,” explains The Capital Tiimes.

“The barber chair is a portal that allows a lot of people to reposition themselves,” Abdu’Allah said. “Getting a haircut is a shared human experience, a ceremony of losing the old and breaking into the new.”

Read more about DARK MATTER.

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