Monday, 13 March 2017

Seven Sudanese Artists in an Unprecedented Exhibition

Paintings by seven Sudanese artists on display currently at Red Hill Gallery are just a fraction of the entire collection of the Gallery’s Sudanese art.

Hellmuth Rossler-Musch first started collecting the works of Abushariaa Ahmed when he and his Dutch wife Erica were living in Kampala, and so was the artist. Hellmuth quickly acquired a taste for Abushariaa’s dreamy and colorful, mixed media paintings which are so characteristic of what’s now known as the ‘Khartoum School’ of art.

The Khartoum School was started in 1960 by three artists working in Khartoum University’s Department of Fine Art. They wanted to create art that synthesized indigenous Sudanese imagery, symbols and icons with Western art styles and trends. They succeeded in influencing several generations of Sudanese artists, especially ones who passed through the university.

All seven artists whose works have been curated by Hellmuth for this Red Hill show spent time at Khartoum University. A number of them also passed through Kenya with at least two of the seven still working here in Nairobi. Abushariaa was an artist in residence for a time at Paa ya Paa Art Centre in the 1990s, while both El Tayeb Dawelbeit and Hussein Halfava are still here. Salah Elmur spends some of his time in Kenya, some back in Khartoum and the rest either on tour or living in Cairo with his artist wife Soaud. Hassan Salim moved to South Africa, while Issam Hafiez went back to Khartoum. The only one of the seven who passed on is Noman Fari, two paintings of which are in the Red Hill show, on loan from El Tayeb.

Hellmuth only has six paintings by Abushariaa in this exhibition, none of which are for sale, since they are among Hellmuth’s most treasured artworks. Admitting to Business Daily that at one time he had around 70 paintings by the artist, but sold several so that now, his stash is short of around a dozen.   

At the time that he bought most of Abushariaa’s art, the painter was living in Kenya and selling his work through Sarang Gallery which sold art at relatively affordable prices. Today, the artist’s paintings are worth many times more than what Hellmuth originally paid. Abushariaa subsequently went abroad, studying and exhibiting around Europe and today is one of the best known Sudanese painters in the world.

Of the seven painters, only the artworks of El Tayeb and Hussein Halfava are for sale. The rest are part of Hellmuth and Erica’s private collection. But this should not discourage connoisseurs of East African art from going to see this important show before it closes near the end of March. In the past, Nairobi has had solo shows for Sudanese artists, but never has the city seen artworks by so many superb Sudanese painters until now.

Red Hill Gallery’s next exhibition opening is in early March. It will feature new art by Onyis Martin, who’s just back from Australia preceded by a major exhibition in the UK. Onyis is a rising star!

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