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A Reflection of Khartoum’s Culture

By Rovianne Matovu, New Vision, (Kampala), 30 November 2001

Leading Sudanese artists Hussein Halfawi and El Tayib wind up their exhibition at Tulifanya today

Today is the last day of exhibition for Sudanese Artists, El Tayib and Hussein Halfawi at Tulifanya Gallery. Their show opened on November 9.

Halfawi has two distinctive painting personalities: one vibrant and the other more pensive and dark. This also fits the mood of the artist. He is as complicated as his art. His art is imbued with the mystique and complexity of Sudanese culture. They have a rich heritage going back to a very ancient civilisation, which is the oldest in the whole of Africa.

Halfawi draws inspiration from the Kush Kingdom of the Nubian civilisation, which he compares to the ancient culture of West Africa. He is particularly fascinated and inspired by the architecture of Sudan and the way in which they decorate their houses with symbols, such as the crocodile and other animals. These are steeped in mythology as well as religion, both Moslem and Christian.

There are also references to mirrors in his work which mimick the mirrors actually used at the entrances of houses as ’an evil eye’ protecting the house from evil spirits. In the language of metaphysics, they also mirror the soul. Halfawi explained to me that he enjoys creating his own colours from his palette. He deliberately does not use pure primary colours.

They are his own invention to match his fertile and spontaneous imagination. Buildings and reference to buildings represent his home and his love for his homeland, Sudan. He nostalgically paints images from his small village where life is easy, carefree and beautifully simple.

Halfawi hates modern technology and the increasingly artificial life. He yearns for rural life and close contact with nature. To add to that individual spiritual experience, Halfawi deliberately leaves his paintings untitled. He leaves them open to interpretation and self-discovery. He wants the viewer to guess the mystery behind them. He just leaves clues from the material world.

In his own words: It is through art that we can capture our dreams, hopes and fears. This is what distinguishes us from animals, which are less sentive beings. Without art we would be just like wild animals. art civilises Man.

Similarly, Tayib is inspired by his Sudanese environment. He also draws upon the brilliant colours and symbols of Nubian art and culture, especially the Farise. Sudan is like two countries: In the North it is the Sahara, dry and desolate; and in the South it is very green, fertile and tropical. He also incorporates symbols and traditions from Sudanese folklore and from their traditions of dance and music. Yellows, greens and oranges appear to dominate his palette. Although Tayib’s paintings are predominantly figurative, they veer towards the abstract with frieze-like decorations like in Egyptian art.

The opening began with a fabulous fashion show exhibiting his printed textiles which he designs for KikoRomeo—a leading Kenyan/Italian fashion house based in Nairobi. They have beautiful designs for both men and women of all sizes fusing African-inspired design to modern dress. Samples are available at Tulifanya and you can order them from Nairobi.

Both artists use acrylic on canvas and mixed media on paper. Tayib also uses oil. This enables them to work relatively fast. It also gives the impression of their work being more intimately graphic than painterly. Their paintings are like pictograms, mirroring the outside world within the picture frame. They are beautiful pictures and have a soothing, timeless quality about them.

This is a wonderful exhibition of two very talented contemporary modern artists.