The Khartoum Modernist Art Movement of Sudan

Formed in 1960 to define a fresh artistic voice and visual vocabulary for the newly independent Sudan, the Khartoum School is considered one of the most active contributors to the growth of modern art in Africa. The School was typified by its use of traditional and Islamic imagery. Its art defined the meeting point of the African, Arab and western world. Its distinctive characteristic was the use of calligraphic writing, in which the artists would distill Arabic scripts into abstract and figurative forms. The methodology was that of spontaneity and experimentation.

The driving forces of the movement

The Khartoum School was founded by Ibrahim El-Salahi, Ahmed Shibrain, and Kamala Ishaq. Today, Ibrahim El-Salahi, who participated in the Mbari Club in Ibadan, Nigeria in the 1960s, is the most recognized and the one whose paintings have defined the legacy of the Khartoum School. El-Salahi left Sudan after he was imprisoned for anti-government activities in the 1970s. He moved to Oxford in 1998, quickly gained international acclaim and became the first African artist with a retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2013.

Untitled V (1969-70), Kamala Ishaq

But Kamala Ishaq, considered one of Sudan’s foremost modernist painters, broke away in 1975 to found the Crystalist Group, which challenged the traditional male perspective of the Khartoum School; effectively causing the group to be disbanded, as El-Salahi was in prison at the time. Ahmed Shibrain remained in Sudan and became a prominent artist and an influential teacher at the Khartoum’s School of Fine and Applied Arts.

The movement’s early generation of artists included Osman Waqialla, Bastawi Baghdadi, Griselda Eltayeb, Abdelrazig Abdelghaffar and Mohammad Omer Khalil.

Although some of the pioneer artists and others, who were stylistically and aesthetically connected with the movement, have contested the use of the term ‘Khartoum School’ to refer to the group, the name has stuck to signify the dynamic and multidimensional movement that influenced the development of modernism, not just in Sudan, but also in Africa.


Featured Image: Vision of the Tomb (1965), Ibrahim El-Salahi
                                 © Ibrahim Salahi

Adekemi is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the arts, particularly African art history. She is dedicated to discovering and documenting the most excellent artworks of our time. Follow her on Twitter at adekemitweets.
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