Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s racial fever glides menacingly under a crystalline sea. The Pretty Beach facility is immediately attractive; the seductive quality of the craftsmanship that brings you close enough to hear the story the artist wants to tell. It is the story of growing up as Muslims in Australia, of being seen as different, and of accepting fear and pain. Document the changing patterns of your life.
His slippery, gray and abundant stingrays, currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the great exhibition The National, are a meditation on the suicide of his grandfather, who died ten years ago. He lived in a huge house on the idyllic Pretty Beach boardwalk on the central coast of New South Wales.
That memory is interspersed with brilliant effect in this work to capture the fear and anguish he felt over the death of his grandfather.
The installation focuses on 11 abundant rays from the estuary, sliding under a sea of sparkling crystals, suspended on 1,800 strands of ball chain. These threads mimic the rain of clouds that activate the surface of the ocean with a flickering light.
The number 11 is significant in Sufi Muslim thought because it represents the idea of knowing his creator, echoing the artist’s fear when he was a child. Recognizing that fear of death, our movement through and around the installation triggers the sparkle of its crystalline sea, placing us real and imaginatively in that space of revelation, terror and intuition.
The installation creates a mystical atmosphere of rain, sea and threatening depths. The surrounding walls are etched with a delicate pattern of shadows cast by the dial chain creating a slowly pulsating veil. Gallery lights illuminate individual crystals as you move through the circular sea, first a white glow, then yellow, green and red. This brilliant field catches the eye when the rays gather below in an elegant arabesque.
Abdullah is one of three brothers, who have drawn and given visual responses to his world from an early age, adapting and appropriating aspects of his Asian and Western heritage. His Muslim faith has influenced the configuration of his practice and each one has framed that experience in his work.
Embedded in life and family memories and intertwined with the narratives of the Qur’an, his works induce a dreamlike reflection on the power of objects and animals to evoke meaning.
His 2013 image of a lamb tied for ritual sacrifice by his father, a vivid memory of his childhood, was given the reassuring title I’m assured you’re going to heaven my friend, his execution performed with an air of holiness is perfectly blended with blood, shit and meat.
Ritual and religion are intertwined, the slaughtered lamb represents all those innocent people who make the ultimate sacrifice for others, voluntarily or not.
Before becoming an artist, Abdullah spent a few years designing and building animal and sculpture enclosures at the Perth Zoo. Animals have become an integral part of his practice: he is interested in ideas of identity that animals allow him to explore.