Art

Sudanese artist dazzles at tribal gallery solo show

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Abushariaa Ahmed, a Sudanese artist who is having a solo exhibition at the Tribal Gallery in Loresho, Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Salah Elmur’s art is one of eight contemporary East African artists on show at Red Hill Gallery.
  • Abushariaa’s show is not short on multi-colours, particularly the vivid watercolours that he has experimented with virtually all his artistic life.
  • Abushariaa has exhibited his art all over the world, and he says one reason he has had these opportunities is that he aims to create paintings that make people glad to be in a room with his art.

Ahmed Abushariaa is one of three Sudanese artists currently exhibiting their art in Nairobi. Salah Elmur’s art is one of eight contemporary East African artists on show at Red Hill Gallery, and Miska Mohammed is having her first solo exhibition at Circle Art Gallery.

All three are graduates of Sudan University’s School of Fine and Applied Arts, as are several other brilliant Sudanese artists who have shared their art in Nairobi, including Eltayeb Dawelbait, Rashid Diab, and Yassir Ali.

Like Miska, Abushariaa is also having a solo exhibition, only his is at Tribal Gallery in Nairobi’s Loresho, where he has had several solo shows before, most recently in early 2020 shortly before Covid-19 came crashing in on Kenya and the rest of the world.

Filling all the walls of the many rooms and corridors of Tribal Gallery, Abushariaa tells BDLife that this exhibition is different from his previous ones which focused on a specific theme. But in this case, his memories have taken him to many parts of his early life when he was still living in northern Sudan.

One series he entitles ‘Celebrations,’ which highlight joyful memories he recalls of harvest times and weddings, happy times generally. In others, he pays homage to ancient civilisations that left pyramids and symbolic hieroglyphs not far from his home.

And in one of his most spectacular paintings, he paints his hometown of Eltakala Abbashar, as he remembers seeing it for the first time as a child, having climbed up to the top of his house and onto the roof to get what he calls an ‘aerial view’ of his town.

This is one large painting that includes both watercolours, inks, and acrylic paints. It’s a feat only achieved by stretching his canvas and then covering it with the watercolour paper since he says watercolours do not work well with canvas. But the combination works beautifully, especially as he is a master of inks and watercolours. Plus, his aerial perspective enables us to see into the far distance of his city, including the River Nile flowing straight across the town.

Not all his paintings are based on his memories. For instance, his ‘Revolution’ series pays homage to the women who he says led the marches against the former president Omar el-Bashir which ultimately resulted in his fall from power and the hopeful ushering in of a new day. The four-part series devoted to women leaders are all painted in a regal purple hue.

One of the elders of the Revolution, Mohamed Matar is also painted in his favourite sky-blue. And another set of four is painted in the colour of the soil of another city he holds dear, Omdurman.

But Abushariaa’s show is not short on multi-colours, particularly the vivid watercolours that he has experimented with virtually all his artistic life. “In Sudan, we didn’t have acrylics or a wide variety of colours in those times, so I used to experiment producing colours using everything from hibiscus, tobacco, and tea to coffee, saffron, and smoky ash.” Knowing from an early age that he didn’t want to do anything other than fine art, he majored in Oriental Decoration and Arabic Calligraphy at university.

It was after university that he had the good fortune to meet a Mennonite couple who saw the paintings he created while working as a graphic designer and using printer’s ink to draw on leftover scraps of paper considered trash by his employer. The couple wanted to buy everything he had produced but as he had no idea how to value his art, he gave it all away.

“Upon their return from the US, they brought me a huge box of art materials,” he says. Their gifts constituted a turning point in his life since they brought him paints, brushes, and acrylics he had never used before.

Today, Abushariaa has exhibited his art all over the world, and he says one reason he has had these opportunities is that he aims to create paintings that make people glad to be in a room with his art.

“I love to create paintings that make people happy,” he says with a smile. He admits that wasn’t easy for him to do during the pandemic, the news about which was invariably depressing.

“So early on, I decided to turn off my TV and focus on my art. I relied on my memories as my source of inspiration. Otherwise, I couldn’t handle the stress,” he adds.

At Tribal Gallery, Abushariaa’s artworks range from Sh72,020 to Sh1.33 million.