1.3. — 24.3.2024

Adel Abidin:
The Revolt

  • Adel Abidin: Unmatched Narratives. Foto: Anna Autio.

  • Adel Abidin: Unmatched Narratives. Foto: Anna Autio.

  • Adel Abidin:  Documents On Salt. Foto: Anna Autio.

  • Adel Abidin:  Documents On Salt. Foto: Anna Autio.

  • Adel Abidin:  Documents On Salt. Foto: Anna Autio.

  • Adel Abidin: THE REVOLT. Foto: Anna Autio.

  • Adel Abidin: Saline Lands. Foto: Anna Autio.

Curated by Nat Muller

Driven by my curiosity to draw connections between contemporary and historical events, I focus on one of the earliest known revolts of enslaved Southeast Africans, known as the Zanj Rebellion (869-883 CE), which started in Basra, southern Iraq. The Zanj are the Bantu peoples who had originally been captured from the coast of Southeast Africa and transported to Iraq. They were enslaved to drain the region’s salt marshes to turn the lands ready for agriculture, as well as mine its salt.

This solo exhibition at Forum Box offers a visual counter-narrative to how history is often written by the victors. It emphasizes the important role of oral storytelling in Arab culture in the of shaping historical narratives and presents the untold voices of the Zanj across three chapters.


The Zanj Rebellion and its relevance to contemporary discourses around decolonial practices and historical injustice have been both enlightening and profound. Spanning fourteen tumultuous years (869-883 CE), this rebellion unfolded in Iraq, notably in the bustling city of Basra. It emerged as a seminal uprising, driven by an enslaved people’s desire for funda mental rights, dignity, and humanity in the face of unspeakable oppression and exploitation.

The Zanj Rebellion and its Leader
At the helm of this historic rebellion stood the enigmatic figure of Ali Ibn Muhammad, whose true origins remain a subject of ongoing debate and intrigue. Fascinated by the life and leadership of Ali, I want to unravel the intricacies of one of history’s longest and bloodiest slave liberation revolutions. Masterminded by this ambitious and evidently charismatic leader, the rebellion employed a myriad of strategies to rally its followers and challenge the oppressive forces of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258 CE). Ali’s shrewdness and cunning were evident in his ability to invoke mysticism and manipulate circumstances to his advantage. By claiming to understand the language of birds, recite unknown verses of the Quran, and even communicate with angels, Ali captivated the hearts and minds of the oppressed, offering them hope in the midst of despair. His strategic manipulation of societal grievances and his poetic rhetoric resonated deeply with those who had endured years of subjugation and exploitation. By promising freedom, land, and social justice, Ali emerged as a beacon of hope and inspiration for the disenfranchised masses, ultimately galvanizing an army of men who had long been deprived of their basic rights and freedoms. Despite facing insurmountable odds and relentless opposition, Ali Ibn Muhammad’s unwavering determination and visionary leadership left an indelible mark on history, symbolizing the ennduring spirit of resis-tance and the relentless pursuit of freedom and justice.


Unmatched Narratives,’ in the first gallery space, shows drawings of which the ink bleeds through the paper. Together the drawings resemble a black and white sketch book that opens its pages onto this historical event. While the silhouettes in the drawings dominate at first, upon closer view the details erased from the historical narrative are reflected with mirrors.

Details: Metal frames: 400mm x 300mm x 200mm / Mirrors: 2950mm x 180mm x 6mm / Acrylic sheets: 2950mm x 180mm x 3mm / Ink on Canson papers: 2950mm x 180mm x 120g.

The series of sculptures, titled ’Documents On Salt,’ is crafted from pure salt and show-cased in the adjacent gallery spaces. This deliberate choice of material highlights the limited resources available to the Zanj for documenting their suffering, with salt serving as their primary medium of expression. Through these sculptures, the Zanj were able to convey their hardships and struggles.

Details: The installation features sculptures series crafted from natural salt slabs, supported by metal brackets for display. Weights and dimensions may vary.

Saline Lands,’ a one-channel video installation, is a haunting journey across saline landscapes, commemorating the final battle of the Zanj rebellion.

Details: One channel video installation / Duration: 00’04’52’13 min / 4k Digital / stereo / 16:9.
Crew: Dop: Anton Demerjian / Production assistant: Hassan Abu-Jarar / Motion Control Technician: Ra’ad Abdallah Alswaeer / Dolly grip assistant: Ali Masoud Alsufi / Offline editing: Adel Abidin / Online editing and color grading: Martin Jäger / Sound design: Timo Anttila & Jaakko Heikura – Humina Oy.


Funded by SKR / Finnish Cultural Foundation, Helsinki.

Many thanks to: Mahmoud Al-sifayyih, Pekka Niittyvirta, Gregoire Rousseau, Aleksi Tolonen, Hassan Abu Jarar, Delair Shaker, Abeer Seikaly, RFC – The Royal Film Commission in Jordan / Abedalsalam Alhaj, Michael Telford and Aura Hakuri.

Helsinki-based artist Adel Abidin (b. 1973, Baghdad, Iraq) is best known for his candid exploration of history, identity, politics, conflicts and memory. His incisive use of irony and humor draws him towards various social situations, addressing elusive experiences and cultural alienation. His projects have gained recognition through numerous exhibitions worldwide. Abidin earned his Bachelor’s degree in the painting department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad (BFA, 2000) and completed his Master’s degree in time and space art from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki (MFA, 2007).

He has received several awards, including the prestigious Ithra Art Prize (Saudi Arabia, 2023), being named Alumni of the Year 2022 at the University of Arts in Helsinki, the Finland Prize for Visual Arts (Helsinki, 2015), Ars Fennica prize nominee (Helsinki, 2011) Jawad Saleem prize (Baghdad, 2001), and the third prize of Ismail Fatah Al Turk (Baghdad, 1999).

Abidin’s works can be found in museums and public collections, including the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland, the National Gallery in Finland, Darat El-Fenun in Jordan, Mathaf – Museum of Arab Art in Doha, Qatar, Kamal Lazzar Foundation in Tunis, King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture – Ithra, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and the NGV – National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, as well as in many private collections.

Since representing Finland at the Nordic Pavilion in the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, Abidin’s work has been featured in numerous biennales worldwide, including the Gothenburg Biennale (2007), the 11th Cairo Biennale (2008), the 17th Sydney Biennale (2010), the Sharjah Biennale (2011), the 54th Venice Biennale – Iraq Pavilion, Venice (2011), the 56th Venice Biennale – International exhibition, Palazzo Franchetti (2015), the 5th Guangzhou Triennial (2015), and the 7th Moscow Biennale, Moscow (2017) and NGV Triennial – National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne (2017).

His major solo exhibitions include MAC/VAL – Musée d’Art Contemporain in Paris (2008), Kiasma – Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki (2010), The Da2 – Centre of Contemporary Art in Salamanca, Spain (2010), Wharf – Centre d’Art Contemporain de Basse in Normandy (2011), Darat al Funun – The Khalid Shoman Foundation in Amman (2011), Kunsthalle Winterthur in Switzerland (2012), Maraya Art Center in Sharjah (2013), and Ateneum Art Museum, National Gallery in Helsinki (2018).

Additionally, Abidin has participated in group exhibitions at Ithra – King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Saudi Arabia (2023), The Nordic House in Iceland (2023), ISAW – Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York (2023), SAVVY Contemporary (2021), Seoul Museum of Art in South Korea (2019), Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art in China (2019), MAXXI Museum in Rome (2018), FOR-SITE Foundation in San Francisco (2017), Kunstram Kreuzberg – Bethanien in Berlin (2017), Vanhaerents Art Collection in Brussels (2016), Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (2015), International Performance Art Festival in Chicago, Illinois (2015), Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah (2015), The Gwangju Museum of Art in South Korea (2014), Fondation Boghossian, Villa Empain, Brussels (2014), The 104 Le Cenquatre – Paris (2014), Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston (2014), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark (2015), New Museum in New York (2015), MACRO – Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (2015), Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2013), SAM – Singapore Art Museum in Singapore (2013), Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver (2013), Mead Gallery – Warwick Arts Centre in the UK (2013), Arter – Space for Art in Istanbul (2012), MOCCA in Toronto (2012), Vejle Art Museum in Denmark (2012), Espace – Louis Vuitton Art Space in Paris (2008).