Faisal Abdu'Allah
DARK MATTER

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison / United States

September 17, 2022–April 2, 2023
April 27, 2022
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
227 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
United States

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The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) will present DARK MATTER, an exhibition by British artist Faisal Abdu’Allah (b. 1969, London) that explores personal identity, cultural representation, and the systems of power that structure our experiences of the world.

DARK MATTER includes a selection of the artist’s most celebrated series, as well as a reconstruction of Garden of Eden (2003), an architectural installation the artist created in collaboration with renowned architect Sir David Adjaye. It is the first time that Garden of Eden will be shown in the United States. Exploring issues of privilege, exclusion, and the voyeuristic gaze, this interactive work 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. 

In other works, Abdu’Allah uses human hair—a carrier of DNA—and focuses on the ritual of cutting hair. Abdu’Allah is also a trained barber, a profession he has fully integrated into his artistic practice, most notably through his Live Salon performances (2006–present). During each Live Salon session, he provides free haircuts to willing participants and engages them in open-ended conversations about issues surrounding contemporary social identity and representation. In Hair Traits (2016–present), Abdu’Allah uses participants' actual hair, which he blends into a fine powder to render their portrait on paper. Regarding his use of human hair, he explains, “Essentially, it brings their DNA, their identity, into the work. Our hair carries a trace of who we are, and it is extremely political. In the history of post-colonialism, the straighter your hair was, the higher up on the chain of respect you were.” 

As a prelude to DARK MATTER, a stone counter-monument titled Blu³eprint was installed outside the Museum in February 2022. Abdu’Allah first conceived of the sculpture several years ago in response to debates about the role of monuments and their removal from public view. His solution was that institutions commission an array of artists to create new monuments that represent their own histories, aesthetics, and experiences. Commissioned by MMoCA, Blu³eprint was realized in collaboration with the fine arts team at Quarra Stone Company in Madison and Italy-based stone carver and sculptor Martin Foot. The counter-monument is installed in front of MMoCA on one of the city’s most prominent thoroughfares as a public work of art.

DARK MATTER was organized by former MMoCA Curator of Exhibitions Leah Kolb.

Presenting Sponsorship for DARK MATTER has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support has been provided by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, the Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of the Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.

About the artist
Faisal Abdu'Allah is a British-born, Wisconsin-based artist and barber. He studied in London at the Royal College of Art. He is Professor of Printmaking at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2019 Mayor of London Award, 2016 Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant Program for Painters and Sculptors, 2012 Mayors prize for sustainability for his film Double Pendulum, Decibel Visual Artist Award, London, and First Prize at the Tallinn Print Triennial, Estonia.

Abdu’Allah is the Honorary Professor, University of Bedfordshire (UK). In 2021, he was named the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art at University of Wisconsin-Madison.