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African Modern & Contemporary Art

The International Influence of Sudan's Khartoum School Pioneers

By Sotheby's
Sotheby’s presents a selection of masterpieces by important Sudanese artists in its Modern and Contemporary African Art sale, in London on 2 April. This includes works by Hussein Shariffe, Ibrahim El Salahi and Salah Elmur, and Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq .

T he Khartoum School was a modern art movement established in Sudan in 1960, that endeavoured to capture the diverse culture and unique identity of the newly formed nation. The group has been hugely influential in the growth of Modern Art in Africa and their work is widely recognized. In particular, their extraordinary use of primitive and Islamic imagery to address social issues has led to international acclaim.

A Renaissance man, Hussein Shariffe excelled in painting, poetry and filmmaking. Born into perhaps one of the most important families in modern Sudanese history, his grandfather, Mohammed Ahmed Elmahdi, a religious leader and politician, was a prominent figure in the 1880s, and central to the fight against colonialism in Sudan.

Realising his love for the arts, as a young boy, Shariffe received encouragement both from his Grandfather and his tutor at Comboni College in Khartoum to further his talent. However, Shariffe’s passion for the arts was rebuffed by his father who preferred that he pursued a career in Law or Medicine. As a compromise Shariffe elected to study Modern History at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. Feeling unfulfilled, he transferred to the University of Sheffield to study Architecture and then finally to the Slade School of Fine Arts where he studied under Lucien Freud. During this time, Shariffe truly honed his talents as a painter, going on to win the John Moores Prize for Young Artists followed by his first solo exhibition held at Victor Musgrave’s Gallery One in London.

Having entirely trained in the West, Shariffe, even until his death in 2005, never lost touch with his roots, which proved to be a great influence in the works that he produced. For example, Birth and Death of the Stars, created in 1995-97, a time that Shariffe describes as instrumental in his artistic development, masterfully juxtaposes colours, creating a vibrant ambiance emblematic of Shariffe’s affinity with the West, as well as Sudan’s complex political history. In November 2016, Hussein Shariffe’s work was included in the Khartoum School – The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan (1945-present) at The Sharjah Foundation in the UAE.

Regarded as a ‘Visionary Modernist’, internationally-celebrated artist Ibrahim El-Salahi explores African, Arab and Islamic motifs through the mediums of paintings and drawings. El-Salahi completed his arts degree at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. The artist then moved back to Sudan to teach at the College of Fine and Applied Arts, which ignited the movement now known as the Khartoum School. Whilst developing his repertoire as an artist, El-Salahi spent time working with the Ministry of Culture in Sudan, as well as the Ministry of Information in Qatar - before settling in the UK on a self-imposed exile.

A set of three drawings will be present in the forthcoming auction, all showing El-Salahi’s excellent draughtsmanship. El-Salahi is recognized as one of the most important artists to emerge out of Sudan in recent years and is hailed for his invaluable contributed to the Khartoum School, and enjoyed a retrospective of his work at the Tate Modern in 2013.

Finally, Sotheby’s is presenting two works by Salah Elmur. Heavily influenced by the rich and culturally diverse Sudanese society, Elmur draws on a compendium of childhood memories. His works reflect the people, animals, sounds, smells and colours of his youth. These facets are arranged symphonically in his paintings, giving the viewers a sense of familiarity with the subjects. The artist has an eternal fascination with photography, in fact, Elmur recalls memories of spending time in his grandfather and father’s portrait photography studio in his formative years and being amazed by the capacity to capture a moment in time through the medium.

One can clearly see the influence this experience must have had on the artist, as his paintings are reminiscent of 1960s studio portrait photography in Sudan. A Cat and a Girl and The Family Portrait exemplify this, they are nostalgic and encapsulate a sense of truth of Sudanese society as both paintings give the viewer an insight into the domestic life in Sudan.

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