ABDULLAH M. I. SYED

Abdullah M. I. Syed (b. 1974) is a Pakistani-born contemporary artist, designer, scholar and writer living and working between Sydney, Karachi, and New York. Trained in diverse disciplines, Syed identifies his interdisciplinary art practice as an archival form of manzoom muzahamat, or poetic activism based on ideas of shared vulnerability, love, empathy, and memory. He has a deep interest and appreciation of the traditional visual arts and crafts, performances of masculinity and sacred rituals which Syed sees a primary resource of inspiration and innovation for the development of his contemporary art practice. For him, a studio is a Karkhana, a workshop and a place of communication where knowledge is transferred through observation, reflection and collaboration. Syed utilizes a variety of mediums and techniques, including drawing, sculpture, textile, video installation, text, and body performance, to examine economies, structures, and theatrics of power and gender (masculinity) in their myriad forms. As a researcher he predominantly interested in exploring historical and cultural connections between art as concept and art as craft trained skill—a dynamic relationship that remains central to the diversity of contemporary art practice in Asia especially. Materials are reactive agents within his artistic processes, purposefully entangling audiences in a web of social connections and experiences, which subsequently inform the poetic aspect of his body endurance performances that are also derived from diverse secular and sacred rituals, public performances and street theatres.

Syed’s ongoing research focuses on traditional arts and crafts systems of trade and various types of economies that produce, mobilize, and allocate resources to perpetuate violence and maintain power and control. He uses materials and objects of commodity exchange, such as banknotes, textiles, precious metals, and spices to investigate the relation between nature and self and their role in forming and recording collective memory and social amnesia. His banknote works in particular explore the historical and current nature of power in a political and religious environment undergoing an unprecedented degeneration of democracy and ethics alongside staggering levels of social inequality.

Syed earned a PhD in Art, Media, and Design, 2015, and an MFA, 2009, from University of New South Wales. He also holds a BA in Design, 1999, and a Master of Education, 2001, from University of Central Oklahoma. Syed is a member of eleven, a contemporary collective of Muslim Australian artists, curators, and writers. Syed’s work has been featured in both solo and group exhibitions as well as art fairs and performance events, including The Karachi Biennial 2019, a solo booth presentation at The Armory Show, New York, 2019; OK Democracy: We Need to Talk, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, 2019; Infinite Present, Gallery 344, Cambridge, 2018; Khallas, UNSW Galleries, 2018; Waqt al-Tageer, ACE Open, Adelaide, 2018; I don’t want to be there when it happens, PICA, Perth, 2017; Flesh & Blood, Asia Society Museum, New York, 2017, The Flying Buck, AsiaTOPA, Melbourne, 2017; Between Structure and Matter, Aicon Gallery, New York, 2016; WAR, Newington Armory Gallery, Sydney, 2016, and Future Archaeology, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney, 2015. In 2019, Syed was selected as one of seven Artspace Sydney One-Year Studio Artists. He is the recipient of the Individual Artists of Oklahoma’s Installation Artist of the Year award, 2003; Blacktown City Art Drawing Prize, 2008; UNSW Postgraduate Research Scholarship, 2009; Time Olson Drawing runners up cash prize, 2010; the NAVA Carstairs Prize, 2017, and 2019 NSW Artists' Grant. He was also a finalist for the Blake Prize, 2013, Moran Photography Prize, 2014, and the 2019 Sovereign Asian Art Prize.