The Khartoum School: The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan (1945–Present), Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq: Women in Crystal Cubes and Amir Nour: A Retrospective (1965–Present): Brevity is the Soul of Wit opened at Sharjah Art Foundation on Saturday, 12 November 2016, in the presence of HH Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, member of the UAE Federal Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
His Highness and other dignitaries, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Humaid Al Qasimi (Director of the Department of Statistics and Community Development), Sheikha Nawar Ahmad Al Qasimi (Development Manager at Sharjah Art Foundation), Khalid Jasim Al Midfa (Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority), Mohammed Obaid Al Zaabi (Head of the Hospitality and Protocol Department) and Salah Salem Al Mahmoud (Director General of the Sharjah Centre for Documentation and Research), were given a tour of the three exhibitions by co-curators HE Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, and Dr Salah M. Hassan, Goldwin Smith Professor at the Institute for Comparative Modernities, Cornell University.
On the occasion of the opening, two special performances were held. Mohammed Hamid Shaddad, a founding member of the Crystalist Group, re-enacted the Ice Exhibition (1978), and Hassan Musa staged The Artist’s Picnic, reinterpreting the act of painting as a journey in which the focus is on the process, rather than the finished product sometimes fetishised by the art market.
Also in attendance were members of the Emirati diplomatic corps and international consuls, including Omer Oushek, Deputy Consul of the Consulate General of the Republic of Sudan, and Namduk Heo, Consul General of the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea. Present were cultural officials, such as Manal Ataya, Director General of the Sharjah Museums Department; Marwan Al Serkal, CEO of Shurooq; and numerous academics, artists, media representatives and members of the local community.
The three exhibitions will be on view until 12 January 2017.
The Khartoum School: The Making of Modern Art in Sudan (1945 – Present)
12 November 2016 – 12 January 2017 Sharjah Art Spaces, Building GH & P, Sharjah, UAE
This major historical survey takes a closer look at the modernist art movement in Sudan. Organised around the foundational figures and pivotal moments of the Khartoum School, the exhibition spans the mid-20th century, including the last two decades of British colonial rule, as well as the postcolonial eras up to the present day to reflect on the nuanced visual vocabulary and complex legacy of the movement.
Coined in the early 1960s, the ‘Khartoum School’ is a much contested term; many founders disavowed it, and others rebelled against it, even though they were stylistically and aesthetically connected with it as a movement. This exhibition uses the all-encompassing term to signify the dynamic, multi-faceted and fluid movement which influenced the development of modernism, not just in Sudan, but more broadly in Africa and the entire Arab world.
Drawing on never shown archival material, this exhibition is an effort to document the history of the movement and distil the ideas behind it. Juxtaposing paintings and drawings – the traditional genres of visual arts in which most Sudanese modernist artists were active – with pottery, ceramics, sculpture, photography, film, video and performances, this interdisciplinary show highlights both the breadth of modernism in Sudan and the interrelated nature of its various genres, sub-movements and groups. The exhibition explores the depth of the aesthetics of the Khartoum School and its diverse styles. It traces the early generation of artists of the modernist movement in Sudan, such as Osman Waqialla, Ibrahim El Salahi, Bastawi Baghdadi, Ahmed Shibrain, Abdelrazig Abdelghaffar, Mohammad Omer Khalil, Taglesir Ahmed, Shaigi Rahim, Siddig El Nigoumi, Magdoub Rabbah, Hussein Shariffe, Ahmed Hamid Al Arabi and Griselda Eltayeb. The works of these pioneers merged Western modernist conventions of form and style with their own visual vocabulary, subject matter and Sudanese aesthetics. Works by relatively younger artists whose careers overlapped with the early pioneers, such as Salih Mashamoun, are also presented. These revolutionaries fashioned an aesthetic and identity which was distinctly ‘Sudanese’ but also transcended its national boundaries to include continental African and Islamic motifs and elements.
This exhibition also presents the work of the Crystalist Group, Madrasat Al Wahid [School of the One] and artist-critics such as Hassan Musa and Abdalla Bola, who have enriched the art scene through their art practice as well as their critical interventions and writings since the early 1970s. These three major artist groups sought to distance themselves from the ideology and visual vocabulary of the earlier generation of the Khartoum School. In highlighting these groups and artists, the exhibition demonstrates that the intellectual and conceptual practices of Sudanese artists are inseparable from global conceptualism as a movement.
The solidification of British colonial rule in Sudan was supported by amateur photographs taken by British soldiers, merchants and travellers as early as 1899. This exhibition demonstrates how film, the press and other mass media have all been crucial to modernity since the advent of British colonial rule and through the postcolonial era. The exhibition highlights the work of two pioneer master-photographers, Rashid Mahdi and Gadalla Gubara, as well as other studio photographers, for example, Abbas Habib Alla, Mohamed Yahya Issa, Fouad Hamza Tibin, Osman Hamid Khalifa, Omar Addow, Richard Lokiden Wani and Joua, in the context of the historical linkages between photography, decolonisation and self-representation.
The press has always been a site of resistance to colonialism as well as a vibrant space to debate Sudanese identity and modernity in the context of decolonisation. Cartoons in daily newspapers and magazines gained popularity, especially in the aftermath of the 1964 revolution, and became an effective tool of criticism in socio-political arenas. The exhibition features political cartoons by not only seasoned pioneers such as the late Izz El Din Osman and Hashim Carori but also the work of contemporary cartoonist Khalid Albaih, who has become well known for his biting humour and sharp commentary on issues ranging from human rights to migration and regional conflicts.
The exhibition also includes a selected number of works by individual Sudanese and Sudanese diaspora artists, such as the Sudan Film Factory, Sudanese Film Club and Black and White Group, who are all active in the contemporary art scene locally and internationally.
Amir Nour: A Retrospective (1965 – Present): Brevity is the Soul of Wit
12 November 2016 – 12 January 2017 Bait Al Serkal, Arts Area, Sharjah, UAE
This is the first retrospective of Chicago-based Sudanese artist Amir Nour offering an in-depth survey of the last five decades of his career. On view in this exhibition are twelve new commissions, several of his sculptural works in a range of media and a selection of his rarely seen paintings, drawings and photographs.
Brevity is the Soul of Wit references an Arabic proverb that Amir Nour often uses to describe his practice and its divergence from minimalist ideas. Nour’s sculpture creatively moves between minimalist forms and Africanist referential ideas, integrating methods, techniques, forms and ideas drawn from his experience as a Sudanese living in the West.
In Nour’s work, geometric or hemispheric objects are reinterpreted within the context of his history, environment and tradition. The elements referenced in Nour’s practice – domes and arches, cattle horns, calabashes and sand hills – are all part of the landscape of his homeland and evidence of his aesthetic concerns as an artist. His sculpture House, for instance, references the form of the adobe architecture of northern Sudan. In Melancholy Portrait he uses simple geometric forms moulded in a Cubist style, which can be recognised in much of African sculpture. In other works, such as his stainless steel masterpiece Grazing at Shendi, which is composed of 202 semi-circles of varying sizes, the shapes are more formalised and highly abstracted. Inspired by his childhood memories of watching goats grazing on the hillside near his hometown, the arrangement of these repetitive units suggests the sloping hills and the animals' backs, while variation in their sizes evokes a sense of distance.
Brevity is the Soul of Wit presents Nour as a transformational figure, not just within the African art movement, but also within the historical discourse of international modern and contemporary art.
Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq: Women in Crystal Cubes
12 November 2016 – 12 January 2017 SAF Art Spaces, Building J, Sharjah, UAE
Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq: Women in Crystal Cubes is the first retrospective exhibition to explore the aesthetic and philosophical contributions of this important modernist painter. Ishaq’s role as a pioneering figure in Sudan and the larger Arab and African modern art scene is most evident in her leading role in the formation of the Crystalist Group, the conceptual art movement that she co-founded with two of her former students in the mid-1970s. Ishaq’s paintings of the period explore and expand on the principles of the Crystalist Manifesto, which she helped author and eventually co-signed with the other founding members. The title of this retrospective is inspired by Ishaq’s memorable 1978 exhibition, Women in Crystal Cubes, which featured large canvases dominated by depictions of distorted female faces imprisoned in crystalline cubes and spheres.
This retrospective traces Ishaq’s half-century journey as an artist. The exhibition begins with her graduation from the College of Fine and Applied Art, Khartoum in 1963; follows her development in London, where she studied mural painting at the Royal College of Art between 1964 and 1966; and covers her return to Sudan and her three-decade tenure as a professor in the painting department at the College of Fine and Applied Art. The exhibition also examines her output during subsequent years in London and Muscat and her return to Sudan a few years ago.
Ishaq’s studies at the Royal College were formative for her career. Her early interest in the work of the English painter and writer William Blake, in particular his exploration of spirituality and the incarnation of divinity through the sublime power of poetry, resonated with her own contemplation of Zar [spirit possession rituals by Sudanese women]. The unlikely convergence would lead to the development of central themes and styles that run throughout her oeuvre. Such influences can be seen in the distorted faces and figures of women in her paintings, mostly rendered in dark monochromic tones of brown. Even when brighter colours are used, Ishaq rigorously and deliberately mutes the palette, as in her series inspired by the brooding figurative paintings of Francis Bacon.
Yet interpretations of Ishaq’s output cannot be confined to one strict style, as she moved on to explore other themes, which are reflected in the multiplicity of her oeuvre as a painter. More recent explorations looking at the world of plants, for example, have become a rich source of formal and compositional innovation, as seen in the series presented within this exhibition. Moreover, she has continuously pursued a practice in graphics throughout her career. She is well known and respected for her collaborations with Sudanese poets, writers and scholars, contributing drawings and paintings to their publications. Examples of these works are exhibited alongside her paintings.
About Sharjah Art Foundation
Sharjah Art Foundation brings a broad range of contemporary art and cultural programmes to the communities of Sharjah, the UAE and the region. Since 2009, SAF has built on the history of cultural collaboration and exchange that began with the first Sharjah Biennial in 1993. Working with local and international partners, we create opportunities for artists and artistic production through our core initiatives that include the Sharjah Biennial, the annual March Meeting, residencies, production grants, commissions, exhibitions, research, publications and a growing collection. Our education and public programmes focus on building recognition of the central role art can play in the life of a community by promoting public learning and a participatory approach to art. All our events are free and open to the public.