Beyond the studies: immersing in arts & culture on campus


Published 29 February 2024

Abdullah M. I. Syed with workshop participants
Abdullah M. I. Syed with workshop participants

At the start of the term, a mixed group of undergraduate and postgraduate students from a range of faculties participated in an art-making workshop by Abdullah M. I. Syed, an internationally recognised artist and UNSW alum. Syed shared his unique perspective on storytelling and artistic expression, drawing from his Pakistani Muslim heritage and everyday experiences.

Syed spoke about his mural Chahār Bāgh: Garden of Knowledge, and his three other artworks that had been recently acquired for the UNSW Art Collection. Exhibited on level 7 of the main library, the works reflect his profound exploration of cultural heritage and personal narratives. During the workshop, Syed not only provided valuable insights into his artmaking process, but also offered practical advice about making the most of being a student while looking after own wellbeing, enjoying UNSW's campus, living in Sydney and taking pauses to 'be in a moment' - based on his own cherished experience.

The event, facilitated by UNSW Culture, UNSW Art Unit and UNSW Library and coordinated with various student clubs and societies, particularly those for South Asian students, resulted in active participation and meaningful dialogue on cultural identity and creativity. Through an interactive artmaking process, attendees were encouraged to explore their own artistic expression while connecting with individuals from diverse backgrounds. 

“This event demonstrates the potential for cultural initiatives to enrich campus life and to foster meaningful dialogue on cultural identity and creativity,” said Courtney Wagner, Curator UNSW Art Collection. “Such a dialogue enhances the quality of students’ learning and development through inspiring inquiry and critical, independent thinking, and helps build the ties that result in a strong, interactive learning and teaching community.”

Over 30 students attended, and feedback was very positive. For example, one participant commented, “I am so glad I discovered this talk in my first week of uni, I heard about it as I was walking through the library. I really enjoyed the art activity and meeting Abdullah; the best part is I made some new friends and got to take home an original artwork.”

Editorial by Courtney Wagner and Laura E. Goodin.
Group of students attending sharing culture on campus event


Students can learn about these and other extra-curricular opportunities from the weekly Student Newsletters and Student Socials: 

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See below how they can follow specific opportunities from UNSW's Arts & Culture

Abdullah M. I. Syed's artworks in the UNSW collection

Artwork: Rulli II (Patchwork Series), 2021 by Abdullah M. I. Syed

Abdullah M. I. Syed
Rulli II (Patchwork Series), 2021
uncirculated Pakistani Rupee banknotes

Artwork: Jalli-3 Circle, 2023 by Abdullah M. I. Syed

Abdullah M. I. Syed
Jalli-3 Circle , 2023
hand-cut and assembled US banknotes

Artwork: Jalli-4 Square, 2023 by Abdullah M. I. Syed

Abdullah M. I. Syed
Jalli-4 Square , 2023
hand-cut and assembled US banknotes

Abdullah M.I Syed was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1974. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Art, Media, and Design in 2015 from UNSW. He also completed an MFA at UNSW in 2009 and a MA (Education) in 2001. He has exhibited widely including at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Asia Society Museum, New York; Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi; the National Art Gallery, Islamabad; and the Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi; among other public and private venues.

Syed’s mural Chahār Bāgh: Garden of Knowledge is in the lift foyer of Level 7, UNSW Main Library. In this mural, Syed combines contemporary drawing and painting methods with traditional craft knowledge learned from his mother and local artisans in Pakistan. His techniques include Sindhi Ajrak (woodblock fabric printing), rulli (patchwork) and South Asia miniature painting techniques. Syed’s three works in the UNSW Art Collection are meticulously constructed from banknotes. In Rulli II, 2021, Syed engages with ideas of labour, memory, identity and worth. The piece is based on two Pakistani craft practices: handmade folded and stapled celebratory money garlands, now a declining art, and rulli, a traditional Pakistani Sindhi textile craft. Rulli has strong links to South Asian chattapatti, a form of patchwork that Syed’s mother used for making new household items out of scrap fabric.

Artworks by Abdullah M. I. Syed are on level 7 in the main library.

Altogether, there are around 1,400 works in the UNSW collection and many are on display. The main areas are levels 3 and 4 in the main library, with level 5 also hosting some exihibitions (see below), and the foyer of the Clancy Auditorium. There is also art in offices and faculty buildings. 

Upcoming exhibition: Hearts, Hands, Minds - 75 years UNSW Art Collection

From 25 March till 14 June 2024, Level 5 of the main library exhibition space will feature Abdullah's works, as well as other significant works from the 75-year-old collection. 


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Following the Instagram account is the best way for students to learn directly about upcoming workshops, programs and artist talks, and to get regular updates about music, cultural events and artwork in the collection and on campus.

UNSW Art Collection & Online Catalogue

UNSW Art on Campus outdoors



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