Birmingham-based artist Faisal Hussain recently presented his first solo exhibition Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects at Centrala, a show that included Muslamic Rayguns, Prevent Cupcakes and a Muslim’s suitcase. Bettina Fischer talked to him about motivators behind his work and the need to face hatred with humour.
Looking at your past projects, you have touched on themes around migration through your heritage-based works highlighting stories of South Asian migrants in Birmingham and Spain. How has this exhibition – which approaches suffering around the victimisation of Muslim communities – come about?
The reason for that shift was that the archive-based stuff was to do with showing what was hidden and trying to decolonialise some of the ways that people of different backgrounds are often overlooked in terms of heritage. So the subject of the F.light project and the Super Migrant project was to uncover hidden parts of history. The reason that this shift took place is that I started thinking more in the present day. I started thinking about what was going on here and about how people potentially would look back at this present point in time as being quite interesting. So I tried to put myself into the future because of all the archive work and then imagine what would be good to comment on as if I was looking back, if that makes sense. And that’s why this stuff to do with victimising Muslim communities came about. Because I knew no one else was talking about it and I didn’t want to wait 10, 20 years for someone to go ‘Oh yeah, we should have talked about that!’
On a concrete level, what’s within the exhibition?
Jokes, partly. People should expect to be entertained. They should expect to be calmed, hopefully. And hopefully they will also come out with a bit more of a playful attitude to do with some of the more negative aspects of the accusations that are being thrown around certain communities.
The exhibition seems to be tied so closely to emotions.
The exhibition is built up from a lot from negativity and through this process I’ve learnt how to feed off negativity and use it as an art material. I’m really thankful for all the love that’s come out of it. But there’s been a couple of negative comments as well, which I find absolutely hilarious. I find uncovering negativity towards communities a really interesting space to play with and I think that’s where the real stuff is, the hidden, simmering, under the surface kind of hatred, not the blatant, horrible hatred of ‘Please leave our country’. It’s fun. It’s fun to make fun out of people who need to change their minds, who need to maybe learn a bit more about people from different backgrounds.
Are you using a humorous attitude as a way of overcoming and challenging hatred?
Yes, this is what I’ve learned from this project. It’s the balance between humour and ridicule. And to be able to be playful, but then if required show people the banality of their belief through ridicule. That’s where we need to question aspects of bigotry and aspects of stereotyping.
In your show you used many different media, objects mainly. How does the project’s theme play into your concept of exhibiting objects?
The subject led the work and I wanted to experiment with as many things outside my comfort zone as possible. I have always created stuff based around digital or sculptural work and I wanted this to be an opportunity to study and do as many things as possible. And that’s why you’ve got everything from cakes, to toys, to projections, to video work, through to objects found online and a certain amount of technology and model making. Because the stories and the subject matter were so varied, they lent themselves to be played with a bit more. I have to play as well and need to make sure that I’m having a good time – as well as having a bad time with art. Sometimes as an artist I think you forget that.
Are you planning on exhibiting this show somewhere else?
Yes, hopefully. It depends on what other institutions within the region say about it. Also there is the aspect that this isn’t an Islamic exhibition, it’s not a Muslim exhibition. I’m not an Islamic artist, I’m not a Muslim artist, I’m an artist who happens to be from a Muslim background and therefore this work has an application, not just because it’s talking about communities so that it would need the community labeling. I want it to be very open, I’d like it to go to places that will allow people to question certain subjects around what the exhibition’s about.
Will there be more objects added to the Suspect Objects collection?
Yeah, these are only half of the proposed objects that I wanted to create. There’s loads more and to be honest there are new ones coming up every day because there are so many contradictions to do with identity, activism, politics. As long as these contradictions are coming up, there’s always a need to question that kind of bigotry, but done in a way that is approachable and that has respect for those communities.
Are you working on anything else not immediately related to this project?
At the moment, yes, there is another project that I’m working on. It’s heritage based and again it’s about Asian youth culture and about uncovering stories and heritage to do with people growing up in Birmingham in the 1960s, to people growing up in the 2000s. The next art project that I’m hopefully going to do is potentially going to be more sculpturally based since I also make wall-mounted sculptures.
Hussain’s solo exhibition Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects was on display at Centrala Gallery, 1 September – 14 October 2017.