The work of modernist painter Kamala Ibrahim Ishag challenges the traditional male perspective of art in Sudan, depicting scenes of women’s lives in colours of sun, sand and sky. Her early interest in the work of the English painter and writer William Blake, in particular his exploration of spirituality and incarnation through the sublime power of poetry, resonated with her own contemplation of Sudanese women’s spirit possession practices known as Zar. These influences are reflected in the distorted faces and figures of the women in her work, mostly rendered in dark monochromic tones of brown and other muted colours. Even when brighter colours are used, the artist has rigorously muted the palette.

Ishag’s work was part of the touring exhibition Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World, sponsored by the Royal Society of Fine Arts, Jordan (2002) and has also been exhibited at Galérie de l’Institut francais de Khartoum (2015); Shibrain Art Centre, Khartoum (2014); Sharjah Art Museum, UAE (1995); Whitechapel Gallery, London (1995); National Museum of Women in Art, Washington, DC (1994) and Camden Art Centre, London (1970), among others.

Ishag graduated from the College of Fine and Applied Art, Khartoum (1963) and pursued postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Fine Art, London (1964-1966). She was later employed by the College of Fine and Applied Art as a lecturer and then head of the painting department. In 1978, she and her students established the Crystalist School, a conceptual art movement that challenged traditional practices in Sudanese art. In the 1970s, she also participated in a residency at the Sudan National Museum, where she worked with other artists to paint an entrance mural for the museum.

Born in 1939 in Omdurman, Sudan, Ishag currently lives and works in the Burry neighbourhood of Khartoum.

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