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A Prestigious Fine Arts College in Sudan Gets Help from Its Alumni

/ 06 Nov 2021

A Prestigious Fine Arts College in Sudan Gets Help from Its Alumni

Despite its long history, Sudan’s College of Fine and Applied Arts has had funding problems for decades. Now some of its graduates are trying to revive the country’s oldest art education institution.

Following the popular uprising that toppled Sudan’s former President Omar al-Bashir in 2019, a number of the college’s graduates have formed voluntary groups to revive arts education after years of what many called the “neglect and sabotage” of Bashir’s regime.

The volunteers say the former dictator’s government “cut down the college budget,” deprived the school’s graduates of public employment, and appointed regime loyalists as academics. (See a related article, “Sudan Shutters All Its Universities.”)

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah Shanqal, dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, said the institution “inherited heavy concerns and countless problems” over facilities, materials and teaching curricula. It is also struggling with a severe shortage of supplies and a lack of academic staff, he added.

The college was established as a design school in early 20th century and now is part of Sudan University of Science and Technology.

Training in Visual Documentation

Issam Abdelhafeez, an artist and graduate of the college in the early 1980s, is one of the volunteers helping the college now. He recently organized a three-month training program in visual documentation for college students and provided them with photographic equipment, with help from Sudan Memory, a project funded by the British Council.

“The revolution revived the efforts of the graduates to advance the college, despite bad conditions, poor curricula and a lack of training programs.”

Issam Abdelhafeez   A prominent Sudanese artist who graduated from the college in the 1980s

“The revolution revived the efforts of the graduates to advance the college, despite bad conditions, poor curricula and a lack of training programs,” said Abdelhafeez, who is also a part-time lecturer at the college. “The art movement is now without borders, and the exchange of information and recent art experiences have helped develop the curricula.”

During the visual documentation program, students produced documentary films on Sudanese art and interviewed successful former graduates about their artistic and academic careers. The research will be put on the college’s website as a resource for new students and as a visual document of Sudanese life.

Abdulhafeez says the visual documentation course will become a new department in the college to assist students in documentation work under voluntary supervision. The main objective of the training project was to link theory, practice and application.

Donations of Art Resources

The alumni are also trying to get donations of equipment and supplies that are difficult to source in Sudan by establishing research and educational partnerships with international institutions, and providing a research archive to help students complete their studies. (See a related article, “Mubarak Hemoudi Depicts the Heritage of Sudan From the U.S.”)

Graduates have already donated rare reference works. Fathi Osman, who graduated in 1982, gave the college library a number of works because he said the college had given its students great hope for change for the better.

Fine Arts College in Sudan
Abdul-Rahman Abdullah Shanqal, dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, says alumni have donated time and resources, and are helping with international outreach. (Photo courtesy of Abdul-Rahman Abdullah Shanqal)

Osman, who holds master’s and doctoral degrees in art history and folklore from Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University, thinks that visual art education at the university level “is not complete without research and learning about other experiences.”

“The college departments, along with the library, have been subjected to a continuous demolition over the past three decades, which made them lack the most basic elements required for education and study,” he added.

Supplementing the Teaching Staff

“The budget allocated to the college does not cover 40 percent of its actual needs. The college has 38 permanent teaching staff, who teach about 800 students in various academic grades.”

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah Shanqal   Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts

Shanqal, who took office as dean in August 2020, estimates that volunteers are compensating for a 10 percent deficit in the fine arts college’s academic staff.

“The budget allocated to the college does not cover 40 percent of its actual needs. The college has 38 permanent teaching staff, who teach about 800 students in various academic grades.”

Shanqal appreciates the alumni support for art education in the country. “We rely on them to meet the material and cognitive needs, such as supporting the college with materials and textbooks, as well as opening relationships with institutions that support arts around the world,” he said. “For that, we are seeking to establish a 200-member association of college graduates in foreign countries.”

Some of the college’s students, however, believe the government should do more, too.

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“The job opportunities for college graduates are very limited in Sudan, due to the prevailing negative impressions about studying art under the previous regime,” said Obay Osama, 21, a third-year student at the Department of Design.

“Therefore, we demand” that the government “allow recent graduates to work for the country’s cultural institutions.”

Big Expectations, Poor Resources

Despite the difficulties, the college administration aspires to raise the standard of its students and develop its infrastructure. For the first time in many years, the college required students to pass an art aptitude test at the beginning of the current academic year.

The college is also trying to construct a new faculty building. It plans to seek donations and submit funding requests to international organizations to complete the building, Shanqal said.

Ahmed Elmardi, a U.S.-based Sudanese artist and photography graduate of the 1980s, is coordinating between the college and art institutions abroad. The college’s need for international support to improve its facilities is urgent, he said, and “far exceeds the graduates’ own capabilities.”

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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام