Setting the Scene
With head raised, her up-tilted chin framed by a luxurious mass of textural locks, Amel Bashir’s figure above takes on an iconic and defiant presence. A fearless, unblinking gaze set against echoes of Persian, Indian and Afro-Arab motifs forging new identities. Bashir’s work reflects her own multicultural roots – her father is from Dongola, Northern Province and her mother is Indian- Sudanese – and her interest in Indian, Beja, and Nuba esthetics. See Wishoush for more examples of her work.
Screenshot from Institut Français de Khartoum’s 2017 Paris interview with Amel Bashir. on her illustrations of the 2015 publication of Les Contes du Soudan. A translation of Amel’s answers in Arabic to questions in English is available to readers on request. See coming posts for an English translation of some of the folktales in the beautiful collection below.
Watch the short video here:
Above, photo collage of a Sudanese bride wearing traditional wedding jewelry with the diaphanous patterns of Sudanese tobes superimposed.(Imogen Thurbon)
A statuesque profile, reminiscent of ancient Egyptian imagery. Amel Bashir Taha says “I try to portray women in their own kingdoms – queens of the ancient Nubian kingdoms in the Sudanese context.” And as “expressions of female beauty, strength, and a lofty status of women within the broader Eastern context.”
Above, 1980s Sudanese henna tattoos. My thanks to Jackie Hall of FB Sudan Teachers Group for this photo. See colour original at the end of this post. Henna tracery adorn many of Amel Bashir’s figures.
Below, from Amel Bashir’s illustrations of Les Contes du Soudan, recounting the traditional folktales told by Sudanese grandmothers to their families.
This is a cultural post for Women’s Education Partnership.
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Collage of Sudanese textures, textiles and jewelry. Imogen Thurbon
Delicate Strength – Amel Bashir Taha
Above, Amel Bashir’s illustration on the cover of the first edition of Women in Islam journal, published by SIHA in 2014. Islam, Amel Bashir told the journal, “at its core treasures women and assigned them a well-recognized status.”Three Questions to Amer Bashir Taha. Read the article, Single Mother by Shadia Abdelmoneim, illustrated by Amel Bashir here: Single Mother
Returning one grey mid-summer morning to a Berkshire suburb after three years bathed in the intense colours of Sudanese light and dress, everything around me seemed muted and monochrome. I later learnt that this is a common reaction among those returning from Sudan.
The glowing colours of Sudanese women’s tobes and adornments are also stripped from Amel Bashir’s work. Once freed from the “noise of colour”, she believes that both artist and viewer are forced to focus on the themes of her work which take on a timeless, archetypal quality. Lack of access to art materials, straitened economic circumstances and official ambivalence over the acceptability of art over recent years have forced new generations of Sudanese artists to explore new media and repurpose the sparse resources to hand. See The Guardian’s Against the Odds. Amel Bashir, self-taught and often “working in isolation from other artists”, chooses to use ballpoint pen and plain paper to develop a style described as idiosyncratic, at once graceful and subversive, with hints of the sinister. “She says she doesn’t know the rules and therefore doesn’t fear breaking them.” (Contemporary Artists of The Sudan, Art in Times of Adversity, p 47)
Amel Bashir has on occasion refused to define the meanings and message of her work, stating “the thoughts and feelings the scenes and aesthetics of my art inspire in others are “part of each painting”, (see Three Questions to Amer Bashir Taha and her response to questions on the message of the SIHA Journal cover). Her works are often untitled. Nevertheless, motifs recur. What she sees as the innate nobility of women, their “hidden strength”, a centre-stage gaze which is both knowing and vulnerable, the tenderness and life-changing nature of motherhood. There is, too, the works’ synthesis of cross-cultural Eastern aesthetic heritage, their protagonists’ strong, unbound flowing hair. And domestic scenes made unsettling and exotic with caged and free perching peacocks, owls, and mythical eagle-like forms, as well as cats gazing both darkly and affectionately out at the viewer.
Strong Indian influences in Bashir’s work, Broken Heart, 2017.
“Like a tale, her paintings are powerful for their alluring but deceptive simplicity that belies the social critique embodied within them, which can most clearly be seen in their often sinister undertones that serve as an important reminder of the darker side of society and human nature.” (Contemporary Artists of The Sudan, Art in Times of Adversity, p 47)
Screenshot from Institut Français video above. Young children hatching in the patterns of Amel’s work during a creative session with her.
Working where there is little state support for artists, few galleries and lack of career opportunities, Amel Bashir notes “We see artists in the West get showered with support and appreciation by the masses and the media. We simply don’t have that here.” She also works in an environment where women face “stronger societal criticism than male artists if their artwork veer from conventional morality.”
See Contemporary Artists of The Sudan Art in Times of Adversity for more on this remarkable artist’s work. Below, her work, Peace.
If you are interested in Sudanese artistic culture, you might enjoy Birds of the Soul, Forests and Spirits, and Inscriptions on Rosewater. If you are interested in Sudanese customs and aesthetics, you might enjoy The Clove’s Fragrance, “A Necklace of Shells from Distant Seas…” and Anointing in Robes of Red and Gold
Details from Amel Bashir’s illustrations, Contes du Soudan by Viviane Amina Yagi, 2015 Editions du Jasmin
My thanks to Jackie Hall (see above) for this photo.
This is a cultural post for Women’s Education Partnership. See At a Glance and Facts and Figures to learn more about our mission and impact.
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