COFA student Idil Abdullahi is transforming traditional cultural symbols into works of art for an exhibition showcasing the creative talents of Muslim women.  

Abdullahi has drawn on her Somali traditions to create a range of textiles, ceramics  and photographic work for the exhibition No Added Sugar: Engagement and Self-Determination, at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. 

The Whitening is a series of burnt textiles, symbolic of headscarves, which explore Abdullahi’s desire to fit into Australian society since arriving from Somalia.

The cloth has been burnt in a kiln, leaving behind a colourless “skeleton” of the fabric.  

“Somali women traditionally wear colourful headscarves, but I remember not wanting to draw attention to myself when I arrived in Australia, so that’s what the burning process represents,” she explains. 

 Abdullahi, who is studying Fine Art and majoring in ceramics at COFA, says she has enjoyed being part of the No Added Sugar exhibition, and sees art as an excellent way to communicate.

 “The exhibition has allowed me to tell people what I want to, in my own way. I can talk about the things that are important to me.”

Abdullahi will also host a henna workshop at the exhibition, where she will demonstrate the dye’s versatile nature. While henna is traditionally used in Somali bridal ceremonies, she says the traditional art is “being revived again”.

She regularly hosts henna parties for family and friends, and says she can’t always keep up with the demand. Abdullahi also hosts regular henna workshops at a community arts centre. 

“With henna, people are the canvas. They open up and tell you their stories. You make a connection with them.” 

With her last semester of study approaching, Abdullahi plans to continue to make art, but is reluctant to leave COFA, as she has enjoyed the experience immensely. 

“I still want to do some more research, I’m not really ready to leave university.”

No Added Sugar runs until July 8 at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.

Media Contact: Cassie Chorn | UNSW Media Office | 02 9385 5405