Arts / Culture

Omar Sakr and Abdul Abdullah on taking up space and their visions for the future for group exhibition ‘Destiny Disrupted’

omar sakr abdul abdullah

As poet and author Omar Sakr puts it, "reality is confronting". Ceaseless flooding on the east coast, a drawn out and deadly pandemic, war, not just in Ukraine but in Palestine and Yemen mar our present day. In times of turmoil art holds true as both a luxury and necessity. The role of the artist as a witness, objector or visionary becomes essential. It's for this reason that we feel ourselves drawn to Destiny Disrupted, a joint exhibition currently on display at Granville Centre Art Gallery.

Curated by Nur Shkembi, the exhibition takes its name from Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, the seminal work of historian Tamim Ansary that delivers a history of the world with the myriad experiences of Muslim communities as its centre. As such, the exhibition at Granville follows suit and gathers perspectives of Australian-based Muslim artists who respond to this notion of destiny through varying art disciplines, offering a break from narratives centred around whiteness.

With twelve artists contributing their work to the show, namely, Abdul Abdullah, Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Hoda Afshar, Safdar Ahmed, Elyas Alavi, Khadim Ali, Phillip George, Khaled Sabsabi, Omar J Sakr, Shireen Taweel, Hossein and Nassiem Valamanesh we spoke to painter and photographer Abdul Abdullah, as well as poet and author of the recently released novel Son of Sin, Omar Sakr, about taking up space and their hopes for the future. Find their words, below.

How do you define destiny?

Omar Sakr: I define destiny as where humanity meets divinity. It is the point of contact between our choices and what is possible.

Abdul Abdullah: It’s honestly not something I think about. I don’t like to think about what’s deserved or what’s inevitable (apart from climate change). There’s a sense of certainty in the word ‘destiny’, that incongruent with the way that I see the world.


The exhibition finds its centre in this quote by Geeta Kapur: “It is a commitment to see the history of art in conjunction with the history of humanity — a proposition that is humble, self-evident and audacious”. What truths were you trying to reveal about the history of humanity in your work?

Abdul Abdullah: With the self-portraits in the exhibition I wear a mask from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001) and I am holding rescued macaque that was with a vet in Malaysia. For me the monstrosity of the mask refers to the projection of otherness on racialised bodies. Here I embrace the genesis of this projection, reconciling the relationship and coming to terms with it.

I dream of a future where…

Omar Sakr: We are actively engaged in caring for each other and the ecosystem that sustains us.

Abdul Abdullah: Where I am understood in terms of my actions and beliefs rather than how I look or what my name is. I also hope that when I have kids they grow up in a world that isn’t on fire.


If destiny is resigned indifference to what is seen as inevitable and disruption is the simple act of questioning that destiny, then what do you think more people should be asking themselves as we hurtle toward this uncertain future?

Omar Sakr: Who is profiting and who is suffering? Forget every narrative, every label, and focus on that question to best understand where power truly lies.

Abdul Abdullah: Are you leaving this place better than you found it, or are you making it worse?


Disruption is…

Omar Sakr: Not as useful or desirable as restitution, restoration, or revolution.

Abdul Abdullah: My participation in the discourse is a disruption. You’d be surprised how often I get emails that tell me I shouldn’t be participating and that I should go back to where I come from.


Who do you admire for their activism and protest?

Omar Sakr: Mohammed El-Kurd and Muna El-Kurd have been incredible activists in the face of overwhelming power and cruelty, I admire them deeply for the way they stand up for their people, alongside every other Palestinian for whom existence is itself an act of protest.

Abdul Abdullah: Richard Bell. He’s the best. He’s my mentor and he’s breaking barriers wherever he goes.


As an artist practicing in 2022, what has been inspiring you, your work and your world?

Omar Sakr: Love. Love for my wife, for our unborn child, for my queer beloveds, for my brother and kinfolk, for the earth and air, for water and God. Love is such a generative force, and I am awash in it, alhumdulilah.

Abdul Abdullah: As someone whose family is in Perth, I am inspired by the fact that I can go see them, and that covid is hopefully easing, and that we can safely start traveling again soon.


Poetry found in a book is an intimate experience between author and reader, one that is deliberately sought. Do Not Rush confronts audiences. What is it like to see your words in this different format?

Omar Sakr: Hm. I think reality is confronting. I would not describe my work as such, except that it mirrors brutalities that people prefer to ignore. There is something compelling about seeing my work situated in this way, and daring to take up so much space. In one sense it’s empowering because poems—like Arabs and Muslims—are rarely given the respect they deserve, rarely allowed to be their fullest selves.


As someone who works across a variety of mediums, mostly using oil, what drew you to photography for Cyclical Histories 1 & 2?

Abdul Abdullah: Someone has probably said it way better than me at some point, but photography (no matter how staged) is perceived as evidence of something that actually happened – it’s seen as documentation. While painting and other tactile materials are often understood as fantastical. I wanted lean into reality.


Do Not Rush deals with violence, contempt and apathy. Can you take us through this poem in your own words?

Omar Sakr: No. That is the reason the poem exists.

Destiny Disrupted is currently showing at Granville Centre Art Gallery until May 1.

Take a look at the art exhibitions taking place across Australia this April.

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One: Abdul Abdullah ‘Cyclical histories 2’ (2020)

Two: Omar Sakr Do Not Rush (2017)