For Curtin Fine Art graduate Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, becoming a self-employed artist and sculptor was never a question of if, but rather when.
“It chose me,” he says.
Working mainly in sculpture and installations, Abdullah draws on his memories of his family and growing up in Australia as a Muslim in the 80s. Each piece tells a story and gives physical form to snippets of Abdullah’s childhood, which he then shares with the wider world.
His autobiographical piece, Wednesday’s Child, located in the Town of Victoria Park, recalls the morning drive to his family’s local mosque before school.
“The artwork is a self-portrait at the age of nine, looking back at the formative era of the mid 1980s that marked a growing awareness of my own identity as a Muslim boy seeking a sense of belonging in the Australian social landscape,” writes Abdullah.
In the Australian art scene, his work has been described as magic realist. Robert Cook from the Art Gallery of Western Australia describes Abdullah’s sculptures as “realistic, but loaded with narrative and personal investment.”
Before deciding to become a full-time artist at the age of 35, creativity was always part of Abdullah’s life.
“I performed a variety of roles in different creative industries, giving me a lot of the technical skills that I brought to my current role as an artist,” Abdullah says. These included commercial sculpture, illustration and fabrication as well as working as a zoo designer building animal habitats and sculptures and as a corporate Christmas designer.
“Curtin offered the most in-depth field of study in terms of contemporary art in Perth,” he says. “I was allowed to pursue my interests as an artist. My lecturers understood that most of the learning curve that I was undertaking was occurring in my studio at home.”
Frequently touted one of WA’s prominent emerging artists, Abdullah’s success in the art scene began half way through the final year of his degree.
“I was offered a solo exhibition at Venn Gallery, which at the time was the best commercial gallery space in Perth,” Abdullah says. “The opportunity that they provided to me while I was still a student played a vital role in the career trajectory that I have pursued.”
Abdullah went on to win the Qantas Foundation Encouragement of Australian Contemporary Art Award 2013 (WA recipient), the Credit Suisse Private Banking / Art and Australia Contemporary Art Award 2014 and the Fishers Ghost Sculpture Prize 2014. In June 2015, he was a finalist in the New South Wales Wynne Prize for his sculpture IN THE NAME.
“Dad used to slaughter sheep in the backyard as a way of getting Halal meat, it just wasn’t really available growing up in suburban Perth in the ’80s,” Abdullah told the Sydney Morning Herald when they covered the Wynne Prize exhibition.
Art runs in the Abdullah family too. His younger brother, Abdul Abdullah, also a Curtin graduate, was a finalist in the 2011, 2013 and 2014 Archibald Prize, and the two frequently exhibit together, most recently at the 2015 Epic Narratives exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA).
Now in a fresh year, Abdullah is busy preparing for the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art 2016.
“To be curated by Lisa Slade (Curator, Art Gallery of South Australia), to produce work for such a high profile event and work with Australia’s best artists and art professionals is a dream for me,” Abdullah says.
Looking forward, he hopes to continue producing relevant, thought provoking and rewarding bodies of work as his career grows.