The Nubian connection

Rania Khallaf , Tuesday 5 Mar 2024

Artist Kamal Hashim gave Rania Khallaf an insight into contemporary Sudanese art

Kamal Hashim

Sudanese art has gained momentum in the last few decades, flourishing in part as a result of prominent artists travelling or immigrating to other Arab countries or the West. Moataz Al-Imam, Adel Kebada and Kamal Hashim are three prominent artists who have brought their work to Cairo. Together with the Luxor-based Egyptian artist (and professor at the Luxor Faculty of Fine Arts) Mohamed Orabi, Kebada established Al-Awda (The Return) artistic group, which stresses the connection between southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The two artists collaborated with Hashim, a new member of The Return, on the Mohandesine-based Dai Gallery’s exhibition A Southern Mood (10 February-1 March). Each artist exhibited his own collection of paintings in three separate, spacious halls. Though different in style and technique, taken together the work conveys a powerful sense of the south.

Hashim’s 40 pieces in mixed media on canvas and paper, all made in Cairo in 2023, feel quintessentially African. Warm, playful and alluring, they reflect a unique sense of place. Born in 1962 in Khartoum, Hashim became a professional artist only a decade ago. Long before that, he studied medicine at Khartoum University, becoming one of the most prominent ophthalmologists in Sudan. He stresses the connection between ophthalmology and art, both disciplines of the visible. “Ophthalmological surgeries are very refined, neat, and artistic. They require special skills. As a painter, I have always thought of how the eye sees colours. Sadly,” he added, “last year the rebels captured and settled in my private hospital and I lost my business. Paradoxically, the hospital, the biggest in Khartoum, was used as a base for snippers. The hospital hosted a private collection of paintings I acquired during my travels abroad. I hope it was not destroyed.”

After many years of practising art as a hobby, Hashim decided to study it academically at the painting department of Sudan University of Sciences and Technology in Khartoum in 2015. “It was a very significant and exciting experience. All my colleagues were young and full of energy, but I was the most productive student,” he smiles. By the time he graduated in 2020, Hashim had learned how to combine painting and printmaking techniques on a single surface. The methodical approach took away from his bold, spontaneous use of colour, he says, but it enabled him to come into his own. The artist is highly influenced by the magical landscape of Donkola in northern Sudan. It is a city rich in ancient antiquities of the Nubian civilisation, common to southern Egypt.

According to Hashim, the new exhibition aims at rediscovering the common roots between Egyptian and Sudanese visual arts and their connection to African art. “The south is not restricted to southern Africa. It is the South of the whole world. I believe that the South in any country or region is the real source of art and creativity. For example, in Europe, Italy is the country that created the Renaissance and caused its spread across Western Europe. Even in the realm of contemporary art, Picasso was greatly inspired by African art. I hope other artists will join our group and to extend this eagerness to benefit from the richness of the south.” The group is planning to organise a workshop for interested artists, a journey that begins in Cairo and goes on to Aswan, Shalateen and then to its final destination in Khartoum. The civil war in Sudan has hindered this plan.

“I hope we can resume this ambitious plan when political issues are settled and security is restored,” Hashim says. Unlike Kebeda, whose paintings focus on traditional celebrations and customs in Sudan, Hashim’s art is not restricted to a specific subject. Though it looks very African, Hashim says he only saw African art while visiting museums in Europe and the United States. “My art is greatly inspired by Donkola, its environment and its indigenous residents, and above all the amazing palm trees and peaceful houses with beautiful domes.” Though most paintings are not inspired by actual events, the impact of war is evident in his figures. Some look hard and heartless while others look shocked or confused.

In one 100 x 120 cm acrylic on canvas, three huge male figures painted in red to evoke anger and rebellion carry wooden sticks as they surround a lone man painted in green to represent peaceful civilians. Making no contact, the four figures’ eyes are painted in semi circles to reflect confusion as if no one knew the origin or motives of such armed conflict. A 80 x 150 cm painting on the other hand reveals some intimate features of Sudanese art, with humans, birds and houses close together. The artist’s way of painting birds is unique. They look like peacocks with their long heavy tails, reflecting his hopes for peace. A smaller, 50 x 50 piece depicts a boy with anonymous features standing helplessly against a beautifully designed house, and a car that looks like a toy while pyramids stand in the distance.

Asked how the war has affected contemporary Sudanese art, Hashim said in a gloomy tone that many artists have lost their work and were forced to flee. “In the last decade, art galleries and the market in Khartoum had started to boom, but now, most artists have fled to Europe or the Gulf countries. We hope security can be retrieved so that art finds safe space to bloom.”


* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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