Windows to the Soul

January 23, 2015

Butetown History & Arts Centre
From 20th Jan to 1st March 2015
Private View: 25th Jan, 2-4pm.
The launch will include traditional Sudanese music and food.

Windows to the Soul is an exciting exhibition, which not only explores the artwork of Sudanese artists Salah Suliman Bakheit and Mohamed Hamza through portraiture, but, also, the modern and contemporary art movement in Sudan – particularly, the Khartoum College of Fine and Applied Arts – and its relationship with western art.

The exhibition is an opportunity to examine the question: What is a portrait? Anyone coming to view the work of these artists will encounter striking but differing styles. In our contemporary world of instant self and group portraiture – of the ‘selfie’ produced via mobile phones and social networking – to ask questions about the nature and functions of portraits is to also question issues around identity: How are the subjects portrayed? How do they address us? Do they actually look like this? Does it matter?

The portraits in this exhibition – powerful, beautiful, engaging – are of people from the Sudan and Wales. The paintings by Hamza were produced in Cardiff; most of those by Salah Suliman were done while he was living in Germany. Both artists were born in Sudan in the 1960s (Bakheit ’61, and Hamza ’66), and attended the Khartoum College of Fine and Applied Art during the 1980s, but they have different experiences that have led them to Cardiff.

Hamza, an artist who has exhibited in the Sudan and Spain, settled in Cardiff and completed a masterclass with the renowned artist Harry Holland, which had a profound effect on his subject matter and style. During a residency at Butetown History & Arts Centre from 2002 to 2004, Hamza produced a series of portraits where most of the subjects are directed to assume a classical portrait pose. However, most his subjects are not those of traditional portrait paintings: they are not rich or famous or white.

As a student, Bakheit travelled throughout the Sudan discovering the traditional cultures of the different regions and was particularly impressed by the culture and body art of the Nuba people, as was the German photographer and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Bakheit, who had exhibited widely in the Sudan between 1981 and 1991, was forced to leave his homeland following a period of political imprisonment and torture that resulted from his political activities as a leftist intellectual and artist opposed to the Islamic government. Fleeing to Germany in 1991, he studied Fine Art to MA level at the Gesamthochschule in Kassel and remained in Germany for 20 years before relocating to the UK and residing in Cardiff.

Bakheit’s portraits include abstract paintings reflecting on the social and political situation in the Sudan, addressing the demise of traditional Sudanese cultures and his experience of imprisonment and torture. They also include a few realist paintings of colleagues and friends.

For many art historians and critics, portraiture is an outmoded artform (although this view has changed somewhat with the rise of the autobiographical subject in postmodernist art). We think that portraits still matter – because they are a way of conveying and bestowing status, power and dignity.

For more information please contact:
Butetown History & Arts Centre
4 Dock Chambers
Bute Street,
Cardiff Bay, CF10 5AG
T: 029 20 256 757

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