From the D’cruzs




26 April 2020
Nisha D’cruz and Rushil D’cruz
A response to Kaseh Ibu, an exhibition with Maimunah Abdullah, Rabiah Letizia, Abdul-Karim Abdullah, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Abdul Abdullah

Cool Change Contemporary



As we settle into the rhythm of social distancing, we’re getting to know a new landscape of our society. Opening up ahead of us is a horizon that looks increasingly uninterrupted by openings, family dinners, gatherings of any kind. While this space draws one’s mind toward new plans, new platforms and what lies ahead past this tumult; it also allows time to stray from the well-worn paths of forward momentum.

In this conversation recorded for Semaphore prior to current restrictions, siblings Nisha & Rushil D’cruz have undertaken an exercise in looking back. Combining collective reflections, memories and ruminations on the exhibition Kaseh Ibu which was held at Cool Change Contemporary in November 2019. It is also documentation of their own relationship revealing dynamics and born of physical proximity which may not be so achievable these days.

Featuring work by Maimunah Abdullah, Rabiah Letizia, Abdul-Karim Abdullah, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Abdul Abdullah, Kaseh Ibu explored the influence of a mother on the artistic practices and life outlooks of her four children. At this moment in time, looking back, it provides a potent focus for consideration of the learning and sharing that comes from proximity; that not shared through structured engagement, but rather through habit, tradition, shorthand and everyday moments.

[AUDIO TRANSCRIPT]

Rushil:
Let’s start-

Nisha:
What’s it called?

R:
Umm

N:
Kaseh Ibu?

R:
Yup

N:
Ok

R:
Wanna introduce it?

N:
Yup. [pause] You introduce it.

R:
We’re talking about Kaseh Ibu, a collaborative work between the Abdullah family-

N:
Yup

R:
-that was at Cool Change Exhibition.

N:
Cool Change Contemporary Exhibition. The contributors were Maimuna Abullah, who is their mum, Raiba Letizia, Abdul-Karim Abdullah, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Abdul Abdullah.

R:
Yup. So yum, Rabia Letizia did the text only and then we’ll talk about what the other three did in a second.

N:
Mmhm.

R:
What were your first impressions when you walked in the room?

N:
Um, so it was a lot smaller than I expected and it was also a lot less cohesive than I expected… it just, it didn’t really look at first glance like what I would expect from a family exhibition, I thought everything would look the same, or in the same theme. Uh, I don’t wanna talk about it too much but obviously the first thing you notice when you walk in there was the giant painting done by Abdul?

R:
Yup, Abdul Abdullah.

N:
Yup.

R:
So, Abdul Abdullah did Heavy, which is the only oil on canvas painting and its huge especially in comparison to everything else-

N:
Yeah, everything else-

R:
-that was in the room.

N:
And it was very dark.

R:
Yes, hang on before we get there- so when you first walked in there what did you… so you first looked at Heavy

N:
Yup

R:
Then what did you immediately, what was the next thing you looked at?

N:
I looked at Heavy, and then I looked at the watercolours to the left which were the plants, the botanical

R:
By the mother, Maimuna?

N:
Yup- and I knew she had done that because I saw online that she painted nature so I expected that, I knew that was gonna be there

R:
Ok, so that was the watercolours you looked at?

N:
Mmhm.

R:
Ok. So Abdul-Karim Abdullah was the oldest brother –

N:
Mmhm

R:
-and he took the photographs.

N:
Mmm, what did you think?

R:
Yeah, let’s hang on a second.

N:
Ok.

R:
So Abdul-Karim Abdullah took the photographs and Abdul-Rahman Abdullah did a couple of sculptures.

N:
Yes, and I didn’t actually realize the sculpture were-

R:
Were part of the exhibition-

N:
Were a part of the exhibition, yeah. I think I was sitting on one-

R:
Decorative, I don’t think-

N:
I was like, leaning against one-

R:
Yeah they were plants, but they were made out of wood-

N:
They were really big [laughs] I just thought it was a decoration.

R:
Yeah, and cos it was Cool Change as well we just thought it was nature

N:
It was also really hot

R:
That is unrelated

N:
So hot

R:
[laughs] unrelated to the exhibition

N:
That was my main memory, is that it was just disgustingly hot.

R:
Ok, so then, I felt the same. I walked in and because Heavy was in there, the painting was in there, it made everything else less cohesive because when you look around the room there’s at least a sense from the others that there’s like a lightness to it and that there’s like a, like an actual light to it- because like the photographs, it’s all very like happy, it’s in the sunlight, there’s plants, it’s a lot of paintings of like plants and natures and then sculptures and then there’s Heavy. Do you wanna describe what the painting is?

N:
Yeah, so we’ll attach a photo if we can, if we’re allowed to-

R:
If we can find it

N:
-cos I have a photo

R:
Oh, you-

N:
I have one, oh I should’ve-

R:
Yeah, anyway continue.

N:
I won’t open it up. So it was who we assumed was the painter, we hadn’t seen him yet but it was a portrait of him sitting down, mid-shot, and he was, was he wearing sunglasses?

R:
No

N:
No, he wasn’t, but he had a very worried expression or like, just a really, it looked upset worried anxious maybe? Is anxious the word? Kind of looking off out of the painting, and then behind him was like a really, it was, then who we assumed to be his mum, well I assumed to be his mum standing behind him and she was wearing um like a black hijab and sunglasses

R:
Yup

N:
And she had both hands on his shoulders

R:
Yeah, her hands were on his shoulders and then, the meaning behind it wasn’t immediately intuitive, its not something that we looked at and we were like “Oh! We get this.” And so, the other paintings, the other works in the room not paintings sorry, the other works in the room because they were so light, there was a sense that the mother had- there was a sense of family- and that the mother had imbued some life into them, some joy, some happiness, but then here was this really dark painting that was mostly like blacks and really deep blues and it seemed like the mother was weighing down on the son, on Abdul Abdullah, and I took it first to be like him under the weight of his mother’s expectations-

N:
Yeah

R:
Him under the weight of his mother’s-

N:
Yeah, so did I. She looks very controlling

R:
In that photo, and it’s because you can’t see her eyes behind the sunglasses, it’s just like you don’t know what her expression is really. The hands on the shoulders, it’s just-

N:
Yeah, it just looks like she’s gripping his shoulders as if she’s like controlling-

R:
Controlling him

N:
-controlling his movements, maybe? Or like, holding him back from something so I read it quite negatively-

R:
Yeah, so did I. And the blacks and stuff, just the blacks that they used in the painting

N:
Yeah-

R:
So wait, so this painting we look at it and it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of everything that’s in the room

N:
Mmhm

R:
Um, and it kinda throws off the cohesion of it. But, it’s-

N:
And also, trying to make sense of the painting, in relation to the title of the, like Kaseh Ibu which is like “Mother’s Love”?

R:
Love, yup.

N:
So I was trying to read those two together-

R:
Together, yeah-

N:
And it just-

R:
It was very confusing. The more I think about it, the more I remember now I remember how confusing it was to actually look at that.

N:
Yeah, it was just so weird. I was like “oh, I guess he didn’t actually have a great relationship with his mother”

R:
-with his mother, which was weird because then we read the text and the text was super positive as well

N:
Yeah, by Rabia who wrote like a little personal essay-

R:
Yeah, really loving and-

N:
It was so beautiful

R:
Um, so it was that one painting at it threw us off completely, we were like we don’t really know what we’re looking at here

N:
Yeah, yup.

R:
Um, before we go into, we can talk about the Q&A cos we were there with Abdul Abdullah, uh sorry, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Abdul-Karim Abdullah and Maimuna Abdullah as well but she didn’t speak she just let her sons do the talking-

N:
She didn’t wanna speak, yeah

R:
-and mostly it was Abdul-Rahman Abdullah doing most of the talking. Do you wanna talk about what Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, what do you remember?

N:
So… I actually can’t remember, why- did he say why they wanted to do this?

R:
Yes, he was talking about the fact that he wanted to do something with his family, how he just followed his older brother mainly, and his older brother went to art school so he just went to art school as well and this was in the nineties and that’s what people were doing. Umm, it was pretty fun, it was pretty light-hearted-

N:
Yup, yeah- is he the youngest?

R:
No, he’s the middle child

N:
The middle, yup

R:
Yeah, uh and then all the brothers went to art school and he was just talking about, a little bit about his history in the art world, I guess? Wasn’t anything too serious and it wasn’t anything really related to the exhibition either

N:
Yup

R:
It was kind of- but basically, he was describing his relationship with his mother and all their relationships with their mother and what they were saying was that the mother was kind of constantly doing things-

N:
And creating

R:
And creating things and also teaching them things as well, and then for the most part I don’t think- like, he gave off like the image that like his mother was a very loving person

N:
Mmhm

R:
-who was sort of always there for them. Didn’t really talk about his dad in that

N:
No, but I think his dad was there

R:
As well, yeah. And that the mother loved, that they would stop the car to go pick up flowers on the side of the road so that the mother could paint them later, Maimuna Abdullah could paint them later, which was really cute. Um, and then yeah they talked a little bit about the relationship between the brothers and how they work together. And then Abdul-Karim Abdullah talked about, uh, he works in prisons now as chaplain?

        N:
Yeah, or like a creative or arts director or something like, he runs like arts programs.

R:
So he talked quite a while about um, the, just like how- the importance of art and how you need, he said that you need autonomy, competence and belonging and that’s what he tries to teach the people or that’s what he, not teach but gives to the people in the prisons.

N:
Yeah

R:
Um, and art kind of has a way of doing that.

N:
Yup.

R:
And then we got an explanation from Abdul-Rahman Abdullah about what Heavy was, and he said that when he sent out the brief to his family to make uh, just something related to their mum, that they were also surprised that Abdul Abdullah came back-

N:
With Heavy.

R:
With Heavy.

N:
Yeah.

R:
Because they were like this is really dark, what is it? Why is it like this? And um, then Abdul Abdullah explained to them that what he was trying to reference was the Islamophobia in Australia, and he specifically, he was saying that women in Australia, Muslim women in Australia experience uh, Islamophobia a lot more than men. And he was getting that second-hand from his mother, he was kind of like-

N:
Absorbing it

R:
-absorbing it, yeah that’s a good word, absorbing those experiences from Maimuna Abdullah which is why she’s standing over him and sort of passing those things on

N:
Yeah

R:
And so within the context of that-

N:
it makes more sense

R:
-yeah, it makes more sense, but does it make more sense in the context of like, I guess the, like the overarching theme of the-

N:
I think, I feel like it’s not cohesive, but it makes sense-

R:
Yes.

N:
Does that make sense? Because obviously they couldn’t all have the same feelings about their mum and have the same experiences and make the same type of art.

R:
Yup, first we have sculptures, photographs and painting. So we already have different forms. And then, but the, so the issue is that there’s, thematically- I guess there’s a diversity in that the other two brothers um, Abdul-Karim Abdullah and Abdul-Rahman Abdullah weren’t attacking the same thing either, but at least it did have the same tone to it.

N:
Yeah. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about what they did because we haven’t really talked about that. So, Abdul-Karim did some photography-

R:
Yeah, what was in the photographs?

N:
So, he had I think he has like two photos of his daughter um

R:
On the beach, posing-

N:
On the beach, um yeah posing, very cute. And there was a little board with a few collections of photos, like different photos on there. So there was like a sword, do you remember that?

R:
Yeah, and then there was a man as well.

N:
Yeah, he never really explained-

R:
There’s a photo of Picasso, I think-

N:
Yeah!

R:
There’s a photo of Picasso, yeah yeah yeah

N:
Didn’t he say it was like his influence or something?

R:
Yeah, yeah yeah yeah. Yup.

N:
And then there was like a photo of like, was it a keris? It’s like a Malaysian sword? I think?

R:
And then there was also one of a lamppost.

N:
Yeah. So there was like some weir photos, he never really explained what it was about.

R:
Yeah, but at least, um they just sort of, I guess you can read them as like a reflection of his, like that’s his life- like the art school thing, his childhood-

N:
That’s true

R:
-and then also the swords.

N:
And they were all kind of arranged as if it was in someone’s room on one of those little cork, you know like those- what are those?

R:
The photographs?

N:
Yeah, so they weren’t like all printed out separately. But the ones of his daughter were printed out and framed separately and then the other ones were just kind of more like just pinned together um, so it did kind of look like maybe a glimpse into his childhood or like teenager-hood.

R:
It felt quite, it felt quite personal. His photos felt personal, especially the ones of his daughter as well, like it just seems like a dad taking photos of his daughter.

N:
Yeah, yeah it wasn’t like-

R:
Not someone actually trying to take photos for a gallery.

N:
Yup

R:
Um, we talked about the sculptures that-

N:
So the sculptures

R:
Abdul-Rahman Abdullah did

N:
Were wooden um, plants.

R:
Yup, it was a plant. It was a pot with a plant, I don’t know what the plant was.

N:
And I think it was kind of inspired by the fact that his mum did like

R:
Painted plants

N:
Painted plants

R:
Yes, uh so-

N:
And um the essay the sister wrote, was a lot about what her mum painted when they were kids and that her mum used to sew, and what she was like and her mum sewed her wedding dress for her and then there was a little bit at the end about what it was like coming here as a migrant, so it ends with “I just want to hug her and never let go”. It was very informal.

R:
Yeah, and that was kind of the feeling of the rest of the room as well.

N:
Hmm.

R:
It’s like loving and-

N:
It is very loving, and I guess also because we went to a viewing where there was-

R:
The Q&A

N:
-a Q&A after. I don’t think I would’ve like enjoyed the exhibition as much without the Q&A, because it was nice hearing from the-

R:
Ok, wait, so you’re saying that you didn’t enjoy it? How did it make you-

N:
No, as in I liked the exhibition, like it was nice, not saying it was bad-

R:
How did it make you feel?

N:
Just the exhibition or the Q&A as well?

R:
Just the exhibition.

N:
Um, it was honestly a little bit confusing. Because I was expecting something that just worked, like I expected all the parts to work more cohesively with each other. Um, but then I also feel like, that maybe, that’s like even more meta- because it’s about a family by a family

R:
Yeah, in that it reflects the themes that it is talking about. Like its presentation, how it makes you feel does reflect

N:
Yup

R:
I guess the dysfunction of being

N:
Exactly

R:
in a family and like trying to pull everything together for a singular focus.

N:
Yeah, and I feel like in a way I could relate to just how laidback all the siblings were with each other when they talked about how they put the exhibition together. I think um, one of them just messaged the rest on Facebook and was like “Hey, I’m trying to put an exhibition together. It’s about mum, or it’s about family- send me something.” And then they all just went from there, like there wasn’t really a brief.

R:
I think it would’ve benefitted from having, from being like, having more works specifically by Abdul Abdullah to support the main, to support Heavy. Um, even if they were smaller works. Because it did make it confusing. Like normally I wouldn’t try to put a room together, like figure out what was going on except that this was a collaborative work so, you would want to know like what was the level of collaboration? And I guess that’s what it was- I walked in and I didn’t know, I didn’t have an idea about what level of collaboration were they doing, were they talking to one another constantly over the whole thing?

N:
Yeah

R:
Uh, or was it just like one sent out a message and then all of them sent things in, which ended up being the case. Without the Q&A, I don’t-

N:
Yup, without the Q&A it doesn’t make sense. Or not doesn’t make sense, it’s just- the Q&A brings it all together which it shouldn’t-

R:
Which it shouldn’t have-

N:
-do [laughs].

R:
Yeah.

N:
I think they could have even maybe clarified it a little bit in this essay?

R:
Yeah, that’s what I was hoping! When I read it-

N:
Yeah I read the whole essay-

R:
-I thought it was gonna have something to do with the gallery, but then the, it actually, it doesn’t have anything to do with the gallery, it just has to do with the mum.

N:
The art work doesn’t work together, but the artists work together because they’re a family, so then that makes the exhibition make sense, in a way. And honestly, I felt more for Heavy before I heard the explanation.

R:
Hmm [laughs]

N:
Because when I heard the explanation, I was like well I didn’t think that at all.

R:
So, final thoughts?

N:
It was good.

R:
Can you say that? After everything you just said? [laughs]

N:
Well I’m not like-

R:
Can you say it’s good?

N:
I don’t like, I don’t make art, I don’t, I’m not- I don’t curate art. I don’t, I don’t know… I did like two art history units.

R:
I think that this was like, a personal passion project for Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, and because of that, it’s like sometimes people curate um exhibitions or like a series of selected works because they’re like I want to put these together, it forms some sort of narrative, it tells some sort of story.

N:
Mmhm

R:
But here, because it’s so unfocused, with the only central point being the mother but because there’s so many points of view-

N:
Yes

R:
-and, Maimuna Abdullah, we don’t get a sense of her personality just from looking at the pieces either, it makes everything really confusing.

N:
That’s a really good point, because they did, in the essay she says “We are here in this space to celebrate her”, being Maimuna, “and share with you what she means to us.” But it’s hard to get a sense of what she means to them.

R:
So, kudos to Abdul-Rahman Abdullah for being able to get a gallery space and being able to pull off something that he has wanted to do-

N:
Yeah, and have everyone contribute in some way-

R:
And people did show up to it, people were interested. And obviously all of them are doing like cool things in art, um-

N:
And we love some POC, Muslim artists-

R:
Representation

N:
Representation. I like that, yeah.

R:
Yes, those were our thoughts on Kaseh Ibu by Maimuna Abdullah, Rabia Letitzia, Abdul-Karim Abdullah, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Abdul Abdullah. From the D’cruzs.

N:
From the D’cruzs.



Kaseh Ibu — Maimuna Abdullah, Rabia Letitzia, Abdul-Karim Abdullah, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Abdul Abdullah
Cool Change Contemporary
2-23 November 2019


Installation photos by Emma Buswell.
Courtesy of Cool Change Contemporary.








Kaya. We wish to acknowledge the Whadjuk People of Boorloo boodja who are the traditional owners of the land where Semaphore is made. We respect their culture, their custodianship, and their continuing contribution to the life of this city and this region. That includes recognising and respecting sovereignty while working in solidarity towards a treaty and supporting ongoing connection to country. That means linguistic rights, economic opportunity, and artistic endeavour. To their Elders, past, present and emerging, we say thanks.




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