The Painter

16 January 2024

Sudanese artists have been oppressed for nearly three decades since the Islamic movement came into power via a coup in 1989. Free expression through the arts was essentially banned and shunned by the former ruling National Congress Party. Only after the toppling of former president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 and a transitional period designed to usher in a civilian government began – were arts finally accepted and allowed to thrive within Sudan.

“It was a revolution for art as well, an artistic revolution”, Al-Mughira Abdel Bagi, a painter displaced in Port Sudan, told Ayin. He recalls the period that followed the ousting of Al Bashir as a new beginning for Sudanese artists when people started to respect and embrace them and the work they do. Graffiti and street art decorated the walls of the capital as lots of youth took to the streets to draw large memorials for the martyrs of the revolution.

Unfortunately, this small flourishing of creativity was short-lived, as the transitional period was cut short by more political unrest, a full-blown war this time, and those places that once reflected the beauty and aspirations of the youth of Sudan, were reduced to rubble. The galleries, studios, and art spaces are now abandoned and ransacked. Artists are now displaced, often traumatized, focusing on survival instead of creating.

Al-Mughira, one of those artists who lost everything –his studio “Jaloos” in downtown Khartoum, was looted and destroyed, ended up fleeing to Port Sudan, Red Sea State. While seeking rest and refuge, Al-Mughira found solace in painting again.

“As long as I am alive, I will continue to make art”, he told Ayin reporters as they visited his exhibition “Survivors”, which he said was his way of expressing how he felt, as he kept getting flashbacks of the horrors, he witnessed during his time being trapped in his studio in Khartoum when the shelling and gunfire started. “The concept came from my belief that no one was safe from this war; even those who escaped the warzones –they are still living in the same war conditions elsewhere”.

Despite all of this, Al-Mughira remains confident the future will be better for Sudan. “The war will end, and we will return, we will rebuild and make art, and it will be beautiful.”