Abdullah M. I. Syed

COMMON THREADS presents a cross-section of recent and previous work by Pakistani-Australian artist Abdullah M.I. Syed. Syed’s art practice is a cerebral but also deeply personal and visually sophisticated one that draws on the traditional craft skills and heritage of Pakistan as well as global 21st-century art practices. His provocations span identity politics, power structures, displacement and memory in a multidisciplinary practice of drawing, sculpture, video, textile, photography and performance.

Syed’s work hints at the value society places upon material objects as it invokes the less tangible but more sustaining values of family, home, the handmade and the communal. His transformative treatments of mundane, everyday items provide a meaningful anchor for his work as it takes on the delicate balancing act of bearing multiple, difficult and sometimes conflicting ideas. Works delve into ideas of the personal, religion and colonialism, using cultural emblems and figures and layering various techniques and media to give historical perspective and depth.

In other works, his manipulation of currency as a medium imbues these most prosaic and practical of items with alternate values and histories. In one work he embroiders the US flag on a dollar bill in striking silky red and blue thread, while in another series copper, silver or gold thread is hand-loomed with the shredded notes of two different currencies, disrupting and layering official narratives and hinting at the complicated stories that carry these objects from one place to another. His meticulously handcrafted, wearable jackets are stitched from currencies that include the RMB, the Pakistani rupee and the Australian dollar, and suggest that our various national identities might hang upon ideas cloaked in little examination or analysis.

It is no coincidence that Syed’s practice of stitching, cutting, splicing and embroidering his medium renders it worthless even as he creates objects far more precious than their assigned face value. This metamorphosis is at the heart of Syed’s practice and gives his artworks both intellectual heft and aesthetic pleasure.