Sudanese Contemporary Painting

"The Harmony of Contrast" by Ahmed Abushariaa

opening: Friday, February 8,  5:30  - 8:30 pm
exhibit runs February 8 through March 2, 2013
gallery hours: Saturdays and Sundays,12:00 pm to 5:00 pm or by appointment

ART ON THE AVENUE GALLERY, at 3808 Lancaster Avenue, is pleased to present Sudanese Contemporary Painting, an exhibition featuring some 45 works, collected over a four-year period, from 1991 to 1995, by Powelton Village residents, Bill and Betty Baumann. The collection was on display in the United States only once before. Please join us for the opening on Friday, February 8, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. The exhibit runs from February 8 to March 2. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, 12 pm to 5:00 pm or by appointment.

Of the fourteen artists represented in the show, half were in their 20s and 30s at the time. They founded a tightly knit group, which shared financial resources and contacts in order to promote their message for Peace outside Sudan. The older, more established artists, who contributed works to the show and fully supported the substance and vision of the younger, emerging artists, held teaching positions in the Fine Arts and Design Colleges of Khartoum and Europe. The continuity of style and discipline between these two “age groups” is evident throughout the show.The sophisticated and exquisitely executed works of Rashid Diab, Seif Laota, Taha Elata, Mohamed A. Otabi, Tariq Nasre Osman, Salih El Zaki and Ahmed Al Tajib incorporate ancient and contemporary African, Nubian and Islamic influences and motifs. Works throughout the exhibit draw heavily on Arabic and calligraphic designs and incorporate traditional folk and historical motifs from Sudan’s most remote corners and the South Sudan area, the newly independent country.

The younger artists have carried on the tradition of intense training and refined discipline of Fine Arts education in Sudan and display mastery of medium and articulation of message, which sets Sudanese contemporary art apart from works of this time in the neighboring East African countries. The prominence in this exhibit of works by Ahmed Abushariaa is not by accident. Throughout these four years of contact with the artists in Sudan, Abushariaa emerged as the intellectual and organizational force behind the tightly knit group of twenty some artists, whose works the Baumanns sponsored. His energy and prolific output of works, his savvy business sense and his dedication to the goals of the “collective”, made him the anointed spokesperson for the group.

The Sudanese Contemporary Painting  exhibit truly stands apart from the usual hurriedly assembled and sales driven exhibits of East African art.  

The Story Behind the Collection

The Baumanns gained access to the artists in Sudan through a long-standing, project-related network of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) contacts, developed over a forty-year period. While on an income generation assignment with MCC in Khartoum, the northern Atbara and the western Darfur regions of Sudan, the Baumanns cultivated relationships with local artists, purchased their works, promoted their cause for Peace and took their message outside the country, particularly in the neighboring Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. These young, courageous painters, whose works were “unsanctioned” and banned from public display, would occasionally show their works at low profile receptions at the French Cultural Center, the British Council and the Goethe Institute in Khartoum, infrequent and risky opportunities to communicate with the outside world. Such events as well as carefully planned meetings in the artists’ homes were the lifelines of contact both with the outside world and with each other. Involvement grew as the artists and their families shared stories of oppression within the country and plans were laid out to carry their works out of the country and bring in much needed art supplies and cash from sales. Thus began a bona fide project to advance the cause of the Sudanese artists, promote their social and spiritual message and seek opportunities for them to exhibit and secure visas to personally conduct workshops in Kenyan, Uganda and Tanzania.

The exhibit is the fruit of friendships and shared goals. It truly evolved from a relationship of trust between the artists, their families and the Baumanns. There was enormous risk for the artists involved, given the oppressive political climate of the time. After the military coup of 1989, artistic expression was stifled by the fanatical Islamist government of General Oman Hassan Bashir and his chief ideologue, Hassan Al Turabi. Artists, writers and teachers who, through their works and teaching, called attention to the civil war in the South, the genocide of the Nuba Mountain people and the raging attacks on the black Africans of the Darfur region, were targeted by the government, removed from positions of prestige and authority in universities, prohibited from the public display of “controversial” works and relegated to marginal duties on official projects and commissions. Many of these artists have left Sudan and live in the diaspora.

More details and/or a preview, contact Miki Farcas, miki@artonave.org.