Letters from Darfur: The longest drawing in Khartoum

2010-11-26 10:43

“A scream for peace and a call out to our humanity” is how a Sudanese sculptor-painter explains his decision to call his latest art exhibition Scream.

His name is Ahmed Osman Ahmed Eltahir, though he signs his work as Shppal. Ahmed has been based in Dubai since 1998, but he returns home to Sudan every time he has new work to unveil.

This time he has returned home to showcase work that includes what is fast being tagged “the longest drawing in Khartoum”. It is a 10 metre long ink on paper drawing that is accompanied by a few other more regular sized ones.

The exhibition is held at an eatery called Papa Costa restaurant on Al-Amarat Street. The venue also doubles as a gallery and a hangout spot for Khartoum’s arty types.

Ahmed’s homecoming this time happens to coincide with my ten day visit to Sudan. It’s also just over a month before his people go to the polls in a referendum that could change the very shape of Africa’s biggest country. That’s if citizens of the Southern states choose to secede from the north.

Ahmed’s work doesn’t shy away from these politics. In fact, the idea of borders is central to his new work.

“When I looked for a motif to represent, I looked to the birds... because they cross borders all the time,” he says.

And so he has produced a number of drawings of birds, a subversive semiotic that promotes the free crossing of borders.

Ahmed approaches them in a highly stylised rendering that echoes Arabic calligraphy with its decorative edge. He also makes use of less angular lines, choosing the freer more elegant and rounded shapes and forms.

He has fashioned his images in black and white, “to emphasise the contrasts in our lives,” he says. Adding that contrasts are there “between the dying and those with power... so I’m addressing the need for better lives.”

The unassuming artist has a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the Sudan University of Technology.

The 43-year-old artist was part of a group of students that was expelled from university for being critical of the establishment in the early ’90s.

Ahmed believes Sudan has seen its worst years already, and the growing space for arts is evidence to that.

He says “this government was anti-everything... but as we get more and more democratic space you’ll see the artist coming out”.

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