Abdul Abdullah

Fighting Spirit

Death threats and exhibitions across the world – what it’s really like to be contemporary Muslim artist Abdul Abdullah.

feature by Steve Dow

Abdul Abdullah loves to combine the serious with the irreverent, all the better to provoke. The 32-year-old Perth-born, Sydney-based artist is showing me two of his current large, as-yet unnamed paintings depicting massive red clouds of explosion, over one of which he has painted the outlines in white of a large frowning face.

“These are missile and fire tests I’m playing around with,” says Abdullah, who wears a baseball cap, headphones around his neck, and has paint marks dotted and dashed about his black jeans. He sports a sparse beard. “The development of weapons of war, over which I’ve layered funny, confused and frowning faces, a person receiving information, their mind exploding.”

The finished painting reminds me of once meeting an Indigenous man blinded decades earlier by British atomic testing in the Australian desert, but other viewers have been posing next to works from this series for selfies; such is the appeal in the Instagram and emoji age of an artist given to painting smiley faces over soldiers or the Hindu Kush mountain ranges in Afghanistan. We are meeting in Abdullah’s studio in St Leonards on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, a large second-floor space overlooking a road, with abundant natural light and polished concrete floors. In the opposite corner nearest the window there is his lovely pencil portrait sketch of his partner, just below the ceiling; she is looking back with
a knowing sideways gaze.

This is one of a couple of spaces made available as philanthropic rents to artists by the building’s property-developer owner

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