African Modern & Contemporary Art

Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq, The Female Trailblazer of Sudanese Art

By Sotheby's
The upcoming Modern and Contemporary African Art sale sees Sotheby's present an emotive work by the groundbreaking artist Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq

R egarded as a feminist icon, Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq is one of the most important female artists working today on the African continent, and one of her works - Preparation of Incense – Zār Ceremony - is presented in the fourth dedicated sale of Modern and Contemporary African Art, which will take place in London on the 2nd of April.

Ishaq is regarded as a major proponent of the Sudanese art scene. She was one of the first women to graduate from the College of Fine Arts in Khartoum, in 1963, and was dedicated to challenging the male-dominated art scene there. She was a founding member of the Khartoum School, a modern art movement established in Sudan in 1960 that endeavored to capture the diverse culture and unique identity of the newly formed nation of Sudan. The group has contributed greatly to the propagation of Modern Art in Africa. Their work is widely recognised and their extraordinary use of primitive and Islamic imagery to address social issues warrants their international acclaim. Later, in 1978, Ishaq also established the Crystalist Group which advocated for a new Sudanese artistic aesthetic that was modeled on diversity and transparency.

Using an intrinsic, yet piercing eye, Ishaq’s works gracefully depict scenes from the lives of Sudanese women, whilst providing an alternative point of view to the otherwise patriarchal and established conventions of art in Sudan. She is fascinated by Sudanese spiritual practices and her work is a great indicator of this influence, which she explores in unequivocal detail in Preparation of Incense – Zār Ceremony.

A Zār is a demonic spirit which possesses individuals (particularly women), causing great discomfort and illness. The Zār Ceremony is a practice whereby the individual is exorcised of the evil spirit leaving them in a trance-like state. Ishaq’s Preparation of Incense depicts thirteen women in a collective space, stacked on top of one another, showing their unity and perseverance in their ordeal. Ishaq depicts their faces in a contorted and grotesque fashion, however, their emergence from the elements of nature around them suggests a new beginning. Kamala’s women are almost always presented as a unit, prompting a feminist interpretation of the work.

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