Even before Rashid Diab’s solo exhibition opened last weekend at One Off Gallery, the award-winning Sudanese artist had set up his personal ‘art studio’ at Laico Regency Hotel.
“I can’t go a day without painting,” says the globe-trotting painter who’s just come from Qatar where he’s had a successful exhibition at the Al Markhiya Gallery in Doha.
Rashid is in Nairobi to attend the opening of ‘One Moment in the Well of Life,’ showcasing an array of more than 28 of his luminous semi-abstract paintings.
They are works that capture the magnitude of the desert and the minimal scale of human life symbolised by moving forms, women draped in bright, flowing hijabs that seem to mask secret soulful stories that the artist knows very well.
Rashid tells those stories in any number of genres, including poetry, prose and painting as well as in etchings, sculpture, fashion and furniture design and even landscape gardening. But it’s only a fraction of his abundant array of the artistic expression, he says, he was born to create.
“You will need to come to my centre [in Khartoum] to get a clearer idea of my mission,” says Rashid referring to the Rashid Diab Art Centre which he established in 2006, six years after he returned home.
At his centre, he’s designed everything from the gardens and villas where artists-in-residence come to work, to the teaching that include workshops, art classes for all ages and art talks.
The centre also has a gallery, but it’s filled with up-and-coming artists’ works. His own art is rarely shown there.
More often, it’s on exhibition in museums and art centres in places as wide ranging as Spain (where he studied and taught for years), Scandinavia, South Korea and Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq and Washington DC, Kuwait, Khartoum, France and New York City.
Rashid’s capacity to create such a vast array of artworks relates to the mission he says began as a child’s dream. “That dream was to fill my world with art even though the dream wasn’t supported by [local] institutions or even my people’s awareness of the value of art.”
The dream evolved into a mission to create a cultural revolution in his country.
“That is why I finally returned to Sudan after living abroad for 20 years.”
Rashid received all his four university degrees, including a Ph.D, in Spain. It’s also where he wrote ‘The Philosophy of Sudanese Art’ aiming to answer questions that no one was even asking before he committed himself to revolutionising the world’s view of Sudanese and also African art.
His decision to return home wasn’t an easy one to make.
“I was teaching [nine years in Spain] and enjoying a good life. But all the years I was away, I was thinking of my country,” says the artist in an interview with BDLife.
“I wanted to come home and develop a culture that reflected a new vision, one that blended the Arab and the African,” he adds, pointing to the filigreed borders on his turban and galabia which he says are his original design.
As a child, Rashid got little or no encouragement to be creative. Yet, he says, he never wanted to do anything else. Being the last born of 14 siblings, his family felt he’d never make a living as an artist. And yet currently, his art sells on the global art market for millions of shillings. At his One Off exhibition, several stunning paintings are selling in the millions of shillings.
“I can’t really sell them for less since those are the prices they go for on the world [art] market,” he adds.
He travels with mounted papers, boxes of oil pastel (crayons), water colour and acrylic paints and charcoal wherever he goes.
“I’d like to devote all my time to my art,” he says.