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Faisal Abdu’Allah: DARK MATTER

September 17, 2022 – April 2, 2023


DARK MATTER by British artist Faisal Abdu’Allah explores cultural representation and self-determination.

DARK MATTER includes a selection of the artist’s most celebrated series, as well as a reconstruction of Garden of Eden (2003), an architectural installation the artist created in collaboration with renowned architect Sir David Adjaye. Exploring issues of privilege, exclusion, and the voyeuristic gaze, this interactive piece separates visitors based on genetic traits—in this case, eye color—in order to undermine our perceptions of difference and alienation. With Garden of Eden, Abdu’Allah points to the privileges conferred to certain people based on the nuances of their genetic matter.

In other works Abdu’Allah uses human hair, a carrier of DNA, and focuses on the ritual of cutting hair. Abdu’Allah is also a trained barber, a profession he has fully integrated into his artistic practice, most notably through his community-based Live Salon performances (2006–present). During each Live Salon session, he provides free haircuts to willing museum visitors and engages them in open-ended conversations about issues surrounding contemporary social identity and representation. In Hair Traits (2016–present), Abdu’Allah uses participants’ actual hair, which he blends into a fine powder to render their portrait on paper. Regarding his use of human hair, he explains, “Essentially, it brings their DNA, their identity, into the work. 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.”

DARK MATTER will also feature a counter-monument by Abdu’Allah, which he first conceived of several years ago in response to debates about the role of monuments and their removal from public view. His solution was to commission artists of color to create new monuments that represent their own aesthetics, histories, and experiences. Commissioned by MMoCA, Blu³eprint was realized in collaboration with the fine arts team at Quarra Stone Company in Madison and Italy-based master stone carver and sculptor Martin Foot. The counter-monument will be prominently placed at MMoCA as a public work of art.


Exhibition labels are available in English and Spanish. Large-print labels are available in the galleries.

triptych of jacquard tapestries, each showing a person standing
Faisal Abdu’Allah, The Duppy Conqueror (triptych), 2017. Jacquard tapestries, 117 x 60 inches, each. Courtesy of the Artist and Magnolia Editions.

About the Artist

Faisal Abdu’Allah is a British-born, Wisconsin-based artist and barber. He studied in London at the Royal College of Art. He is Professor of Printmaking and Associate Dean for the Arts in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 2021, Abdu’Allah was named the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art at UW-Madison.


Photograph artwork of a person posing with their, holding their hands together, and their face concealed by their hood. They wear boots, sweatpants, a plaid shirt, a letterman's jacket, and a hoodie.
Faisal Abdu’Allah, Khalyl, from the series I Wanna Kill Sam, 1993/2022. Inkjet print on aluminum, 78 ¾ x 39 1/3 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Magnolia Editions.
Jacquard tapestry showing a man standing wearing a suit
Faisal Abdu’Allah, Prince Hall, MWGM Samuel L. Stotts, 2021-22. Jacquard tapestry, 117 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.
photo etching on paper showing a person's face
Faisal Abdu’Allah, Untitled I from the series Dullah 69, 2010-2012. Photo etching on paper, 16 x 15 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

Programming & Events

Exhibition Celebration | Opening Reception
Friday, September 17, 2022 • 5–8 PM

MMoCA Cinema | Sunday Matinee |
Sunday, December 4, 2022 • 12 PM & 1 PM (Films recommended by Faisal Abdu’Allah)

Drop-in Tours
Thursday, January 19, 2023 • 4:45 PM • 5:15 PM

The Beginnings of Prince Hall Free & Accepted Masonry in Wisconsin
Thursday, January 19, 2023 • 6–7 PM • A Lecture Featuring Alan Chancellor

Faisal Abdu’Allah’s Live Salon: A Conversation with Faisal Abdu’Allah and Ron Dayne
Thursday, March 23, 2023 • 6–7 PM

Drop-in Tours
Saturday, April 1, 2023 • 1:30–2 PM

Faisal Abdu’Allah’s Live Salon: A Conversation with Faisal Abdu’Allah and Alan Chancellor
Saturday, April 1, 2023 • 2–3 PM

Drop-in Tours
Saturday, April 1, 2023 • 3–3:30 PM

(Counter)Monuments Panel Discussion
Thursday, April 27, 2023 • 6–7 PM


Artist Talk and Live Q&A with Faisal Abdu’Allah

(Counter)Monuments Panel Discussion

Virtual Tour

Exhibition Catalogue

Mockup of the artist Faisal Abdu'Allah's exhibition catalogue which features a barber chair on the cover.

The exhibition DARK MATTER and its accompanying catalogue highlight the work of internationally recognized artist Faisal Abdu’Allah. Through explorations of personal identity, cultural representation, and the systems of power that structure our experiences of the world, he focuses attention on the human capacity for radical transformation. From contemporary approaches to portrait photography and experimental printmaking to large scale installations and interactive performances, Abdu’Allah uses a wide range of materials and processes to recontextualize the images we associate with race, class, and power. In doing so, the artist asks us how our own ideologies, as well as cultural and historical influences, impact our relationship to others and to ourselves.

In addition to being an artist, Abdu’Allah is also a barber, a profession he has fully integrated into his artistic practice, most notably through his community-based Live Salon performances (2006–present) and his recent Hairtraits series. Abdu’Allah reflects on the importance of the barbershop within the political, social, and economic life of many Black communities, past and present.

With a foreword by Leah Kolb, former MMoCA Curator of Exhibitions, the 114-page book features full-color and often tactile images of each work in the exhibition. Also included is an essay by Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz titled “On the Art of Dislocation,” which is an excerpt and expansion of the original essay, in response to DARK MATTER. The catalogue concludes with a conversation between Abdu’Allah and Zoé Whitley, who first saw the artist’s work, Garden of Eden, in 2003 at the Chisenhale Gallery in London’s East End and who now directs the gallery. The book was designed by Art & Sons and printed by American Printing, both based in Madison, WI.


Press Coverage

Warhol Foundation Announces Fall 2021 Grantees
Art Forum

Sculpture of UW-Madison art professor brings message of ‘shared humanity’
The Capital Times

MMoCA receives significant grant supporting fall exhibition of work by UW–Madison’s Abdu’Allah
University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education News

Faisal Abdu’Allah’s Blu³eprint hopes to spark conversations about the complexities of historical monuments

Watch Now: New ‘counter monument’ sculpture on State Street celebrates shared humanity

New sculpture by UW-Madison professor unveiled on State Street
The Daily Cardinal

Abdu’Allah sculpture unveiled on State Street in Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education News

Faisal Abdu’Allah: DARK MATTER
Art-agenda Announcements

Barber, printmaker, professor finds humanity beyond race
University of Wisconsin–Madison News

Building a ‘Counter-monument’: Abdu’Allah unveils sculpture aimed at better representation
University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education News

Best of Madison Editors’ Picks 2022
Madison Magazine

Abu’Allah’s Blu³eprint is honored as ‘Best New Piece of Public Art’ by Madison Magazine
University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education News

Madison Artist Faisal Abdu’Allah’s DARK MATTER Invites Public Into His Journey of Transformation
Wisconsin Muslim Journal

How do Madison monuments represent our community?
Madison Magazine

Who are the Prince Hall Masons? Exhibit shines a light on their work
Wisconsin State Journal

Related Installation

Artist Faisal Abdu'Allah standing in front of his counter-monument modeled after him
Photo by Sarah Maughan.

Exhibition Support

Presenting Sponsorship for Faisal Abdu’Allah: DARK MATTER has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Major Sponsorship has been provided by Gina and Michael Carter, and Husch Blackwell. Additional support has been provided by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, the Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of the Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.