Magazine article Art Monthly

Faisal Abdu'Allah: The Browning of Britannia

Magazine article Art Monthly

Faisal Abdu'Allah: The Browning of Britannia

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Faisal Abdu'Allah: The Browning of Britannia BFI Southbank Gallery London February 14 to May 18

On the opening day of Faisal Abdu'Allah's The Browning of Britannia at BFI Southbank Gallery, the artist explained to BBC4 how he first met HRH Ago Piero Ajano, the central subject of his multi-screen installation. The prince was introduced to the artist by his former 'power of attorney', who was adamant that Piero Ajano was the direct descendant of King Edward VIII. On the car ride back to Piero Ajano's current home, a charmless council flat, Abdu'Allah was astonished to hear the old black man mumbling as he pointed at luxurious apartments in Mayfair and Knightsbridge: 'I used to live here.' The day after, convinced that he had just spent the night with a senile lunatic, Abdu'Allah visited the lawyer who showed him numerous documents all demonstrating that His Royal Highness had indeed been a resident in some of London's most prestigious postcodes. Intrigued, Abdu'Allah took a portrait of Piero Ajano, but the resulting picture was not enough to convey the thick mystery surrounding this incredible character, and Abdu'Allah--mostly known as a photographer, printmaker and installation artist--decided for the first time to use film.

The Browning of Britannia is a black square box with a screen on each wall. Three acquaintances of the prince in his heyday--Clarence C Thompson MBE, Michael Wade and Barry J Gordon--as well as Piero Ajano himself, recount their memories of the time when the prince was still wearing slippers adorned with the royal emblem. Each of the narrators is clearly filmed in interview, but the questions are cut out, leaving only snippets without ends or beginnings, a collection of increasingly extravagant stories: Piero Ajano could be the descendant of King Edward VIII, or perhaps of a Spanish King who had a mistress of colour, he could come from Nicaragua where his whole family was tortured by the regime and/or died in an earthquake, he was also locked up in a Scottish castle for some time but nobody remembers why. The more the narrators speak, the less it makes sense. Piero Ajano's murmurings contribute to this lack of coherence; he occasionally throws in a sentence--'If I call that name I will be in a lot of trouble'--before falling again into inarticulate babble. …

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