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Ibrahim El-Salahi Pain Relief at The Saatchi Gallery, London

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Under the Tall Trees Shade – A Sudanese Childhood

“…then did the children wake / and setting down bare feet / from beds to earthen floors / already gently swept / to lead away a biting or stinging creature / the children hurried to their bowls of tea/ with mostly milk / and dipped their toast / to ready for the day’s first great adventure….” Morning in Serra Mattu


Setting the Scene

Title photo and above, details from Reem Mutasim Bashir’s work capturing the childhood memories she recounts below. Memories framed by the traditional fluid, mud-walled architecture she pays homage to in her work.

Reem graduated in Art Education and Textile Design from the Sudan University of Science and Technology in 1996. My thanks to for the commentary on this piece.

Below, detail from Reem’s untitled work. Sudan’s vast afternoon sun radiates henna-ed tracery against a sky vibrating with heat.

“…how thrilling it was in the earliest morning / to race barefoot down the sandy slopes and dunes / with all the bellowing goats / and dogs and sheep and other animals / for their first morning drink / and to swim in the fresh waters of the flowing river /

while the thousand upon thousand / of high unhindered Nubian stars began to fall away / before the silvery streak of dawn / appeared along the hills.

until light grew from nearly nothing / to an immensity”

Memories of a Nubian childhood captured in Return to Serra Mattu, from Morning in Serra Mattu, A Nubian Ode, by Arif Gamal, as told to E.G. Dubovsky, who recorded it in verse. Scroll down to learn more about the author and poet. See more of their work in The River of Life

Below, a Nubian doorway just north of Dongola, mid-late 1980s. Learn more about Nubian architecture and women’s central role in house design in Inscriptions on Rosewater.

Under the Tall Trees Shade – Untitled Work by Reem Mutasim Bashir


(Personal collection, Imogen Thurbon)

Below, Reem’s commentary on her work, followed by my brief summary.

As Reem explained to the Mojo Gallery in Khartoum, an urge to capture the simplicity and intimacy of communal life in the traditional Sudanese neighborhoods or “Hila” of her childhood is central to this work. The connectedness and warmth of Hila life so etched on her memory, is informed by and resonates with the vernacular architecture of rural northern Sudan with its jaaluuS and mirig – thick mud brick walls, plastered smooth with donkey dung, water and sand; its high beams and palm thatched roofs.

See more (in Arabic) inمدماك-الجالوص-يقاوم-البناء-المسلح/

Inside a country mosque, illustration from Everything is Possible, p 16, showing the high palm wood rafters.

In cool, airy interiors, sheltered from the blazing summer sun, neighbors would gather to ask after each other, gaining strength from each other as simple meals and meager resources are shared among friends.


Above, traditional Nubian interior, as seen by Margaret and Alick Potter in Everything is Possible, Our Sudan Years, p173. Alick Potter was a professor of architecture in the newly independent Sudan of the late 50s.

And enclosing everything, Reem explains, is the canopy of the tall tree at the painting’s core, under whose generous shade the men of the neighborhood would gather to debate and consult in the late afternoon and early evening heat. Memories, Reem says, which are indwelling and which she holds in great affection. Memories made visible here with childlike freshness.

If you are interested in Sudanese art, you might enjoy

Amel Bashir Taha Delicate Defiance


Below, on Arif Gamal, author of Morning in Serra Mattu, 2014. The book is dedicated to E.G.Dubovsky, who recorded his story in verse and without whom he says “this book would not have been.”

This is a cultural post for Women’s Education Partnership.

You might be interested in our orphans schooling program. See From Hardship to Hope Our Orphans Schooling Program


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