Afternoon Dust

Faisal Hussain — Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects

Faisal Hussain - Muslamic Raygun, silver toy raygun with the word 'muslamic' written on it in stylized script.

Centrala have been nudging themselves into the heart of the artists’ colony of Digbeth for a couple of years now, but their new upstairs gallery and performance space has taken things to the next level (no pun intended). The large open room provides ample space to make a substantial statement, and Faisal Hussain is the latest artist to take advantage of the opportunity. His new show Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects brings together a number of sculptural objects reflecting themes of misrepresentation, prejudice, and suspicion, each accompanied by a text panel explaining the concept behind the work.

In many cases, the text panel proves an unnecessary indulgence. For example, the lurid pink icing and piped slogan of the Prevent Cakes do enough on their own to evoke the cloying insincerity of the eponymous counter-terrorism strategy, with no need for detailed explanation. Other works see a great concept marred by less-than-stellar execution: the conceptual link made in Droning on… between tabloid media and killer drones, two contemporary ways of waging warfare, is a powerful one, but the tabloid titles slapped on little models of drones are too simple to do the concept justice. Objects such as Gove Horse and Ahmed’s Clock simply reference recent events without adding anything to aid critical reflection on their meaning.

The most powerful and challenging work in the show, to my mind, is the quartet of neon takeaway signs that together spell out their title, We Must Not Be Extreme. The liberal counter-stereotype of the friendly halal takeaway owner is frequently reached for in opposition to more hateful representations of terrorists and suicide bombers, but at the end of the day all forms of stereotyping deny those being stereotyped the right to self-determination. The perceived pressure on Muslims to constantly present as ‘moderate’, and the shallowness of many well-meaning non-Muslims’ engagement with their Muslim neighbours, give a powerful awkwardness to the work; at the same time, the sculpture opens up space to begin to address these issues by raising them honestly and directly.

The best works in Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects tell their stories through their own form, without need for any additional explanation. On the evidence of this show, Hussain should feel confident about letting them stand on their own two feet.

Faisal Hussain’s Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects is showing at Centrala, Birmingham until 16 October 2017.

Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects
Image: Muslamic Raygun (2015) by Faisal Hussain