Art + Censorship | Abdul Abdullah discusses ‘Violent Salt’

Two works by contemporary artist Abdul Abdullah have sparked a national debate about censorship and free speech.

The embroidery pieces – All Let Us Rejoice (2017) and For We Are Young and Free (2017) – depict military figures overlaid with smiley face emojis. The imagery enraged the veterans’ groups and was condemned by some politicians as being disrespectful to armed forces, which led to their removal late last year from the nationally touring exhibition, ‘Violent Salt’, then held at Artspace Mackay in Queensland.

Noosa Regional Gallery’s decision to include Abdullah’s work in its iteration of ‘Violent Salt’, currently on show until 26 January 2020, met praise from the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), with Executive Director Esther Anatolitis applauding the Gallery for showing ‘cultural leadership’.

Abdul Abdullah, For we are young and free, 2017, manual embroidery, 126 x 110cm. Darebin Art Collection

Developed by Artspace Mackay and curated by Yhonnie Scarce and Claire Watson, ‘Violent Salt’ assembles works by contemporary artists from across Australia. It explores themes of marginalisation, racism and discrimination, plus attitudes to other cultures.

‘Having Abdul visit the Gallery to talk about his contribution to this exhibition is an opportunity not to be missed. It will be great to hear directly from the artist as opposed to the sensational and often misguided interpretations of his work that have sadly played out in the press and on social media,’ said Michael Brennan, Director of Noosa Regional Gallery.

‘Abdullah explores the experience of the ‘other’ in society, with particular focus on young Muslims’ experiences in contemporary multicultural Australia’, continued Brennan.

‘Violent Salt’ aims to give voice to underrepresented Australians, providing a context for discussions about racism and discrimination.’

Abdul Abdullah, All let us rejoice, 2017, manual embroidery, 125 x 110cm. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore

Ironically, misrepresentation of Abdullah’s tapestry works sparked a torrent of abuse, making particular reference to his name and assumed ethnicity.

‘It’s very frustrating (that) I have to justify my pretty non-controversial political comments alongside my position or my legitimacy as an Australian,’ Abdullah said.

‘Not that it matters, but my family have been here for 200 years, but I’m still getting emails telling me to go back to where I came from. I wonder if my name was different, whether this would be news at all.’

Abdul Abdullah is a four-time Archibald Prize finalist and three-time Sulman Prize finalist. His works are featured within the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Australia, Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, among others.

Abdullah will be speaking at a free event at Noosa Regional Gallery on Thursday 23 January 2020, from 5pm. Bookings essential:

‘Violent Salt’ features the work of Abdul Abdullah (NSW), Vernon Ah Kee (QLD), Richard Bell (QLD), Daniel Boyd (NSW), Megan Cope (QLD), Karla Dickens (NSW), S.J. Norman (VIC) Yhonnie Scarce (VIC/SA) and Jemima Wyman (QLD). Read more…