Chasing Mirrors is an exhibition of new work exploring alternative forms of self-representation and portraiture by contemporary artist Faisal Abdu'Allah and the Chasing Mirrors Collective, a group of young people from Arabic-speaking communities in Brent, Barnet and Ealing.
As a response to the National Portrait Gallery
's Collection the artists set about creating a reflection of their own identity, age and ethnicity, to be displayed at the Gallery. Avoiding conventional portraiture, the finished works show differences and similarities between members of the Chasing Mirrors Collective and the audience in these multi-dimensional portraits. The exhibition marks the start of a three-year project at the Gallery made possible through funding from John Lyon's Charity.
The exhibition is comprised of large-scale composite photographs, three constantly changing plasma screens, still-lives of personal objects and textual portraits. The plasma screens show portraits of the individuals from the Collective that change every few seconds. This work encapsulates the idea of the exhibition title Chasing Mirrors: the pursuit of the impossible single defining portrait.
The composite photographs in the exhibition combine the facial features of the members of the three groups who make up the Collective, An-Nisa from Brent, Paiwand and their partners in Barnet, and Tallo in Ealing. All of the groups are from disparate backgrounds and ethnicities but by amalgamating the features of the individuals, the eyebrows of one, the mouth or hair of another, a new portrait is created representing the whole group.
Further portraits are created from still life photographs of personal objects belonging to the Collective. These objects include an iPod, a handbag, a coin and a trainer - blown up and rendered in laser etchings on paper. This presentation of these everyday objects invests them with importance, emphasizing the significance of the objects to the individual and illustrates another facet of their identity.
When developing the exhibition in workshops, Faisal Abdu'Allah asked the Collective a series of questions, for example, What is your favorite food? If you could who would you raise from the dead? What is your star sign? What is the last thing you laughed really hard at? These questions are displayed on one wall of the Gallery and the answers on the other as textual portraits. Originally, this exercise allowed the Collective to highlight the similarities between themselves, and in an exhibition context they draw attention to similarities between the audience and the Collective.
Chasing Mirrors is the culmination of collaboration between the artist and three community organizations. The organizations are; An-Nisa, a women-managed organization established in 1985 to promote a British Muslim identity; Paiwand, an Afghan Community Organization established to unite and improve the quality of life of the Afghan refugee community in the UK along with their partners Barnet Refugee Service and Barnet Youth and Connexions; and Tallo, a community centre on the South Acton Estate which works with the Somali Community including asylum seekers and refugees mainly from Somalia. After the close of the exhibition an archive box containing documentation from the project and original works will be added to the reference collection of the Gallery as a record of the Chasing Mirrors Collective.
Each year, as part of this three-year project made possible with support from John Lyon's Charity, a new lead artist will collaborate with participants on a series of workshops and each autumn an exhibition of their work will take place in the Gallery. The project will vary each year according to the artist's practice, medium and their perspective and response to the National Portrait Gallery's Collection which they will explore with the participants.
This year's lead artist is Faisal Abdu'Allah. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, his work crosses the borders of photography, the printed image and lens-based installation. Interested in brokering disparate worlds, his work includes The Garden of Eden (2003), and more recently Gold Finger (2007). Faisal Abdu'Allah has participated in Sharjah, Torino and Tallinn Biennales and has been the recipient of the Decibel Artist Award 2005 and recently the first prize at the Tallinn Print Triennial 2007. He is currently in collaboration with Christian Boltanski on 14 years in between. Senior lecturer in Fine Art at the University of East London, he lives and maintains a studio in London.