Visual Arts

Sudan artist Rashid reveals passion for printmaking


La planta Roja, 1992 painting by Rashid Diab. PHOTO | POOL

Rashid Diab was the first in a stream of brilliant Sudanese artists who came flooding into Kenya in the early 1990s.

He has been a way-shower ever since. Experimenting with technical skills that he’s acquired and mastered over the years, his awesome etchings have come to Nairobi’s Red Hill Gallery in an exhibition entitled A Trajectory of Etchings – 1980-2000.

A trip up to Hellmuth and Erica Rossler-Musch’s ever-green gallery is well worth the trek, if for no other reason than to meet two of the most hospitable art lovers around.

But then, to see the Gallery’s pearly white walls covered in a rich array of Rashid’s colourful etchings is all the more reason to come and see.

They are mainly abstract works, but one can see so many influences surfacing through his swirls of colours, two-dimensional lines, and calligraphic curves that disclose his Sufi upbringing.

There are more than 50 etchings, all of which are beautifully framed and displayed in geometric clusters of both miniature gems of genius dressed in sepia and ochre ink as well as larger works suggesting symbolic forms such as are found in northern Sudan, in the ancient murals of Meroetic and Kush civilisations.

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The venerable Sudanese artist flew in from Khartoum, especially for his exhibition opening last Sunday, November 20, having been preceded by his son Yafil, who prepared the way for Nairobi to see facets of his father’s art other than the style of painting that he is currently passionate about and which we have seen in recent exhibitions of his work in places like Tribal Gallery, One Off, and Gravitart.

“We met Yafil more than a year ago when he came and suggested that we have an exhibition of his father’s etchings,” Hellmuth told BDLife shortly before the exhibition opened.

“We were impressed with the etchings, especially as they cover a span of 20 years, but we couldn’t hold the exhibition until now.”

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Rashid Diab. PHOTO | POOL

There had been many steps involved in bringing Yalif’s idea to fruition, especially as he had to return to Khartoum and the process of curating the show had to proceed online.

The fact that none of the etchings had ever been seen before in Kenya made the preparation process all the more exciting for Hellmuth who relished the challenge.

But once he’d selected his favourites from the hundreds that Yalif had shared, Hellmuth insisted on framing all but ten of them to show them in their best light.

“My father was impressed to see the exhibition as he had never seen so many of the works shown so well in one space,” Yalif said.

Rashid himself hadn’t discovered his passion for printmaking, specifically for etching until he was introduced to the technique in Spain, at the Complutense University of Madrid where he had been awarded a fellowship to attend.

That discovery led to his getting advanced degrees in painting and etchings, including a PhD.

But after years of working as a scholar and professor of fine art, he felt compelled to return to his homeland where he has been sharing his knowledge, skills, wisdom and experience with his fellow Sudanese ever since.

In 2000 when he returned to Khartoum, he established the Dara Art Gallery. And several years after that, the Rashid Diab Art Centre was born.

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“As we don’t have a national art gallery in Sudan, the Centre has played an important role,” Yalif said. It has also given Rashid the visibility required for the world to recognise his talent and leadership role in the arts of Sudan.

For instance, he won the King Juan Carlos of Spain award for Excellence in Service. He has also won ambassadorial status from the Japanese and British governments for his concern for peace and the environment.

He’s also exhibited his art all over the Middle East and Europe.

So, while he hasn’t lost his passion for printmaking, he had to put it on hold while shifting artistically as well as socially and culturally from his Spanish to his Sudanese circumstance.

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El Pico Azul, 1987 painting by Rashid Diab. PHOTO | POOL

“I’m concerned about the role of women in our society, which is why they appear so frequently in my art,” Rashid told BDLife at the opening of his first solo exhibition at Red Hill.

But it is thanks to his son, who discovered hundreds of his etchings while archiving his father’s art that we have the opportunity to see this treasure trove of an earlier phase of Rashid’s artistic ‘trajectory.’

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