Substitute: The Untold Narrative of a Mother and Son - Abdullah M I Syed
- When 4 Jun - 6 Aug 2016
Cnr The Horsley Drive and Oxford Street, Smithfield, NSW
Tues to Sat, 10am - 4pm
Substitute: The Untold Narrative of a Mother and Son, is Pakistani-born artist and UNSW Art & Design graduate, Abdullah M.I. Syed’s first solo exhibition in Sydney, Australia.
This travelling exhibition is the culmination of a six month long artist residency Syed undertook at the Fairfield City Museum & Gallery from 2015-2016. An established artist and designer with an international career spanning more than 15 years, with Substitute, Syed evocatively investigates ideas of memory, intimacy, migration and gender role attitudes in a complex narrative that weaves together the personal, the familial and the historical through photographic digital prints, sculptural works, drawings, video and installation, as well as an outreach project engaging members of the Sydney community and beyond.
While the subject of the mother and son (or Mother and Child, with the child being chiefly male) has been explored widely through the ages, its historical associations are inherently bound with ideas of religion and religious representation (pertaining to both western and eastern/Islamic traditions), of sacrifice and human suffering, and undeniably of love and loss. Keeping these firmly in place, Syed seamlessly weaves a secondary narrative through them, one that is simultaneously personal and yet outward reaching in its investigation of familial bonds, of gender and cultural capital, and of migration, movement and memory.
The common, household money plant (Epipremnum aureum or Golden Pothos) is used as an object of symbolic substitution, four of which Syed hypothesizes his mother nurtured and grew in the place of her sons, who had left the country in pursuit of higher education and professional prospects – in the absence of her sons, the plants become substitute objects of affection and care. Appearing in 3-dimensional works, video and prints, the money plant is also juxtaposed against the image of the artist and his mother in intricate ink drawings and an appliqué style tapestry which is stitched together using the artist’s mother’s and other family members’ old clothes, evoking classical representations of the Mother and Child, while remaining wholly relevant to contemporary concerns of movement and separation in an age of global migrations and immigrations.
Objects are also the focus of the poignantly minimal digital prints that present everyday articles of use, whose importance lies in direct proportion to their function, and through which the artist creates a type of archive that comes to document personal significance through the mundane. These, along with the community outreach project, form a kind of complex portrait, not only of the artist’s mother but also subsequently as a reflection of himself. In this way, Substitute comes to occupy a space that is both intensely personal and yet unquestionably universal in its ability to reach and speak to a larger global community through shared contemporary concerns in a world of porous borders and global citizens.
Substitute: The Untold Narrative of a Mother and Son is a travelling exhibition currently on display at the Fairfield City Museum and Gallery until 6 August, 2016 before it travels to Canvas Gallery, in Karachi, Pakistan during January 2017.