LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 7, 2023) — The University of Kentucky Art Museum is pleased to announce the opening of two new exhibitions that offer ways of understanding how an artist’s ideas find physical form, and how discreet disciplines of visual art, music and dance can intersect. They will be on view from June 27-Nov. 18, 2023.
Faisal Abdu’Allah is a British-born, Wisconsin-based artist and barber, and his exhibition features work that looks at the act of barbering and its relationship to Black identity. It includes photographs in a variety of formats, including tintypes showing the tools of the trade (electric clippers, attachments and scissors), and images of Malcolm X in a series of screen prints engaging the history of the Black Power movement and issues of racial pride and empowerment.
In “Hair Traits” (2016-present), Abdu’Allah’s hair is used to create the tonal range in large portraits on birch plywood, featuring young men who look at the camera with varying degrees of confidence. He has said, “Essentially, my DNA is tied/inculcated in their image. 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.”
In “The Barber’s Chair” (2017), the artist takes a utilitarian seat where the client sits to receive the barber’s skills and transforms it into a royal throne with the addition of tufted black leather and gold plating. This recalls the bling associated with rap and hip-hop musicians. By elevating the status of the chair, he celebrates the Black barbershop and its role in the dissemination of knowledge about social and political histories.
“Faisal Abdu’Allah’s mixed media works use photography and printmaking in expansive and accessible ways, and his history of creativity is deeply performative, drawing on his experience as a barber, and the legacy of the Black barbershop as a site for the dissemination of socio-political information and a space of community and solidarity,” writes Horodner. “I think his exhibition will speak to our campus and Lexington community in deeply moving ways.”
In association with the exhibition, Abdu’Allah will discuss his work 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, in the Worsham Theatre, at the Gatton Student Center, as one of this year’s speakers in the Robert C. May Photography Lecture Series. He will also perform a Kentucky version of his “Live Salon” performances (2006-present) at the UK Art Museum on Saturday, Oct. 14, during which he cuts hair and engages in conversation about selfhood and society.