The Sudanese artist Mubarak Hemoudi, who is 77, works in the United States, but his paintings reflect his experiences in Sudan, including scenes of violence he witnessed in his youth and the daily suffering of residents, and especially women, of Sudan’s Darfur region.
Born in Sudan’s North Kordofan state in 1944, Hemoudi moved between the country’s southern and northern regions during his youth and now divides his time between the United States and Sudan. “I get inspired by images from Khartoum and come to America to paint,” he said.
Hemoudi recently displayed a series of his paintings in Northern Virginia in an exhibition titled “African Art and Tales from Sudan.”
Through 38 images of Darfuri women—some from the Baggara tribes in western Sudan, some from the Dinka tribes in the south and other groups—the exhibition takes visitors on a time journey to the past of Sudan’s rural regions.
“People in these areas are oppressed. Many generations have not seen the camps for displaced people in Darfur, the fighting images, or the women’s lifestyle.”Mubarak Hemoudi
Among his works that reflect the plight of Darfuri women is a painting of a woman digging in the dirt in search of ants stock to feed her young children, a work inspired by an incident he witnessed firsthand in the southern states.
Art as a Call for Freedom
Hemoudi’s art practice is not limited to the aesthetic dimension alone. It goes far beyond to call for achieving freedom, defending his homeland’s marginalized regions, and relating forgotten peoples’ stories and ways of life.
“People in these areas are oppressed,” he said in an interview via Zoom. “Many generations have not seen the camps for displaced people in Darfur, the fighting images, or the women’s lifestyle.”
His art is influenced not only by the violence he witnessed during his youth and the tyranny of tribal leaders over peoples’ lives, but also by his experience of the patterns of daily life and interactions among the residents of Sudan’s various regions.
Hemoudi thinks that the rural regions are the core of Sudanese art, for they are still natural and have not been affected by the modernization wave.
He explained that Sudanese art exists more in the natural environment than in urban areas such as Khartoum, which was influenced by imported European cubist and abstract art movements. All regions of Sudan are saturated with African art with an Arabic touch as a result of the first Arab immigration to Sudan’s western and northern regions, he said.
The Influence of Kushite Art
Hemoudi studied fine arts at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Khartoum, which was established in the mid-1940s, before moving to Germany twice to study textile printing and color science. These skills later helped him improve his paintings’ aesthetics and master the use of lines.
The Kushite art of Sudan’s past “is the origin of the existing arts and styles. It is hard to find an analogue of it in any other region.”Mubarak Hemoudi
In most of his works, Hemoudi draws on elements of Kushite art, one of the most famous types of African design and calligraphy used in drawings and decorations in many African countries.
The history of Kushite art goes back to Kush, a rich African civilization that originated in northern Sudan near the border with Egypt, nearly 5,000 years ago.
Kushite art is an art that stands on its own, Hemoudi said. “It is the origin of the existing arts and styles. It is hard to find an analogue of it in any other region,” he said. Its styles, he added, are characterized by a mix of simplicity, sophistication, and complexity.
Images of Life in Marginalized Regions
Kushite art in African countries is employed in various fields, including the plastic arts, such as sculpture and ceramics, but also in designing household items and decorating weapons, Hemoudi said.
The plastic arts in Sudan are a very old practice, according to Issam Abdel-Hafeez, a professor at the College of Fine and Applied Arts at Sudan University of Science and Technology.
“It was affected by the local scenery-rich environment, as well as the presence of Arab and African culture in its regions, which was reflected in the diversity of artists’ use of tools, such as the presence of fifty-one written languages other than Arabic,” Abdel-Hafeez said in a telephone interview.
Abdel-Hafeez believes that Kushite art is one of the results of this mixing Arab and African cultures, which affected rhythms, fashion, art and life in general.
“This art is linked to the civilizations that prevailed in the Afro-Arab region, and is an extension of some African civilizations, called the Kushite, and its historical spread in what is now northern Sudan,” he said.
Aspirations for Art in Sudan
Hemoudi complains about the lack of support for artists in Sudan, starting with the infrastructure, especially the scarcity of galleries and exhibition spaces, and ending with materials, such as paints, brushes, and tools for sculpting and pottery. These conditions forced him to travel to the United States to accomplish paintings that reflect the heritage of Sudan.
“There is neither a house for Sudanese painters, nor a museum of contemporary art, nor any permanent exhibition space in Sudan.”Issam Abdel-Hafeez
An artist and professor of art at Sudan University of Science and Technology
“I made most of my paintings outside Sudan due to the lack of materials needed to produce these drawings,” he said.
Most Sudanese artists are forced to leave the country due to the lack of capabilities and exhibition spaces in the country’s cultural centers, according to Hemoudi. (See two related articles, “For Sudanese Artist Mohammad Omar Khalil, Black Is All Color” and “Art Book Series Explores What It Is to Be an Arab Artist.”)
Abdel-Hafeez agrees about the lack of state support for Sudanese artists, despite their global contributions.
“There is neither a house for Sudanese painters, nor a museum of contemporary art, nor any permanent exhibition space in Sudan,” he said, adding that some ministries and official bodies used to display cheap, Chinese-made paintings like those sold as home decor.
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Finally, Hemoudi aspires that the government would support artists to promote Sudanese art’s level and presence beyond the Arab region.
“Sudanese art must restore its past glory of previous decades,” he said. “The many young Sudanese talents must be invested to hold exhibitions inside and outside the country.”