Adel Abidin: TThe Revolt 2024

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 people 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 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 Four chapters; On, Unmatched narratives, Documents on Salt & Saline Lands.


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 fundamental 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, oering 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 enduring spirit of resistance and the relentless pursuit of freedom and justice.