Enough Khalas – ‘Asian Art News #28’


Arts article in Asian Art News

Enough Khalas

At the University of NSW Gallery

Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on 9/11, 2001, Islamophobia has been pervasive in many Western countries. A multi-media group exhibition entitled Enough Khalas in Sydney, the exhibition explores the contemporary Australian Muslim experience, and gives voice to the struggles many Muslims experience in the West.

The Arabic word khalas translates into English as ‘enough.’ The show profiles the work of 16 Australian Muslim artists through a variety of visual expressions.

“Khalas explores contemporary art as resistance to and disruption of our Western-manufactured climate of fear and misinformation … the exhibition asks that Australians step outside the cloistered Anglo-dome to look anew at what an independent, transnational, confident Australia might look like,”

writes Phillip George, curator and an associate professor at the University of NSW School of Art and Design.

The artists here are from a variety of cultural backgrounds, thus challenging the notion of a blanket Muslim identity. Among the artists taking part in this rich, complex, and thought-provoking show are Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Eugenia Flynn, Alia Gabres, Karam Hussein, Zeina Iaali, Ms Saffaa, Abdullah M.I. Syed, Mehwish Iqbal, Fatma Mawas, and Shireen Taweel.

The artistic statements made are sometimes funny and irreverent, sometimes poetic, but often critical and angry. Pakistan- born artist Khadim Ali, with his elaborate gold-leaf, wool-and-cotton wall-hanging The Arrivals #1 (2016), depicts refugees as demon-like figures with horns above a cluster of eucalyptus leaves; elaborating on xenophobic attitudes some Australians have toward refugees from war-torn countries.

Seen as ‘Other,’ Ali says that even as refugees are escaping the catastrophe of war, they are portrayed as demons, inhuman, and a threat to the social order. In doing so, our society represses the hopes of human beings who have endured the very limits of survival, ignoring the reality that they seek peace.

According to Ali, what is at stake in the mistreatment of refugees is not just their humanity, but also our own.

Saftar Ahmed has created graphic illustrations on light-boxes entitled Stop Creeping Sharia! Ahmed, founder of the Refugee Art Project, sends up the anti-Islam attitudes built up in the West. He depicts Islamic imams and hijab-wearing women as frightening zombies, like cartoons from a horror movie, to comment on some of the outrageous racist rhetoric and hysterical accusations used by right-wing media and politics against Muslims.

Malaysian Australian artist Abdul Abdullah makes grand photographic tableaux of Muslim weddings, with staged studio lighting and a balaclava-wearing marital couple, as a play on how such traditional rituals are often perceived by mainstream attitudes as alienated and strange. Khaled Sabsabi, who migrated to Australia in 1978 with his family during Lebanon’s Civil War, has made a multilayered mosaic-like video work called Syria that envelops the viewer with its kaleidoscopic images of Damascus streetscapes.

Made between 2002 and 2011, Sabsabi said in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper (on May 9, 2018):

“I wanted to show the beauty in everyday life there—the street scenes where there is peace, in a region that has projected hostility and uncertainty for nearly a century and where violence has become the unfortunate condition of the everyday.”

Many of the female artists here confront the stereotype of the passive Muslim woman. Tehran-born artist Hoda Afshar, challenges negative attitudes toward veiled women in the West. Through Andy Warhol-style Pop art photographs of women wearing the hijab, she rejects uninformed assertions about Islamic identity. In Westoxicated, from the series Under Western Eyes (2013–2014), she rejects the notion that these women are oppressed and submissive. Wearing Mickey Mouse ears over their veils, bleach-blonde Marilyn Monroe hairdos, heavy eye make-up, and trendy sunglasses whilst smoking a cigarette, she reveals Muslim women who are “just like me”—fashion-loving, rebellious, and sexually free.

Another artist who critiques gender roles is Leila El Rayes. In her photographs and performance video Dancing in the Crevice of Desire (2016), she portrays covered women, dressed head to toe in colorful and decorative Arabic fabrics and surrounded by Islamic imagery, yet dancing and moving in a free, sensual manner. The Sydney artist, of Egyptian and Palestinian descent, explains that she wanted to subvert the prevailing cliché of the suppressed Muslim woman, instead depicting a woman who is strong and liberated.

The range of subject matter these artists confront in their various oeuvre is “intellectually potent and deeply personal” and noting that they are “compelled to prove their right to be part of society.” With the ongoing debate on stringent asylum-seeker policies in Australia, this exhibition could not be more timely. The intense, provocative, and potent imagery here is a powerful statement to the Anglo-Australian viewer that Muslim Australians have had enough of racial prejudice and that each possesses their own strong, individual identities that should be respected: Their personal identities and beliefs indeed are “enough.”

Arts article in Asian Art News
Enough Khalas exhibition review by arts writer and editor Victoria Hynes