Whether presenting a new collection of artwork in his hometown of London, speaking with UW–Madison students or working with court-involved teens in Dane County, Wisconsin, Faisal Abdu’Allah isn’t afraid to draw attention to — or ask probing questions about — history, race and intolerance.
“Everywhere I travel, the rubric is the same,” says Abdu’Allah, an associate professor with the School of Education’s Art Department. “I’ll meet a group of students less fortunate than myself and think, ‘If it weren’t for my strong family structure growing up, that could have been me.’”
Abdu’Allah is an internationally acclaimed artist who creates iconographic imagery of power, race, masculinity, violence and faith to challenge the values and ideologies attached to those images. He came to UW–Madison in 2013 as the Arts Institute’s Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence, and he returned in the fall of 2014 to join the Art Department as a faculty member.
During this period, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families released the “Race to Equity” report that put the spotlight on the Madison area’s profound racial disparities in education, child welfare and the criminal justice system, among other realms. Three- quarters of Dane County’s African-American children live in poverty, compared to 5 percent of white children, the 2013 report explained. Half of all black high school students don’t graduate on time. And black juveniles, the report noted, were six times more likely to be arrested than white juveniles.
While such inequities are deep-rooted, Abdu’Allah has a unique ability to infuse people with confidence that the future doesn’t have to look like the past.