Above Enas Satir, whose level gaze invites us to view our worlds differently.
A Passion for Imperfection; In Conversation with Enas Satir
A Sudanese Potter in Toronto
Above, a collage of just some of Enas’s diverse creative portfolio which embraces illustration in ink and watercolor, digital art, weaving, experimentation with crafts and mixed media in a creative process which starts with the concept of the project, followed by choosing the medium. Enas Satir
All photographs in this blogpost have kindly been provided by and are copyright Enas Satir and Erin Candela. They may not be reproduced without permission.
Above, slideshow of some of Enas’s latest ceramic works. Learn more about these fascinating pieces in our conversation below. Photographs are copyright Enas Satir and Erin Candela.
Cutting through the Noise
“So Many Things Need to Be Questioned”
Clay as Canvas and In Conversation
Above, Enas holding some of her ceramic pieces. Photos by
Cutting through the Noise
Enas Satir is a Toronto-based Sudanese illustrator, graphic designer and visual artist. Enas dreamed of becoming a writer as a child and her multi-layered, multi-media work reflects the power of the written word embodied in art to both question and defy. When words for realities are brought physically into the room, she believes, dialogue can begin. A dialogue that cuts through the noise of the conservative conventions and assumptions of an imperfect world. It was the “wasted energy” of observing myriad small social conventions in her homeland that led Enas to seek greater space to be creative – a space she eventually found in Canada. Learn more about her creative path to Toronto in her interview in The Potter’s Cast; Finding Freedom
For Enas, imperfection is the creative spur to her work; the dissonance of a song fêted while its singer is socially despised or the kick of incorporating deliberate imperfections into her ceramics. From those imperfections questions flow. And Enas is an artist determined to ask questions. That often means stepping into uncomfortable territory:
Left, the experience of exclusion and racism informs Enas’s work. The word “slave”, `abd” in Arabic can still be heard in Sudan to refer to darker skinned Sudanese.
Sudan speaks through her work and the “beauty in the rawness” she sees in her homeland is alive with possibilities:
…”it is not tainted by how it is supposed to be. It is really raw and this takes me back to the ugly, beautiful thing and this is a thing about Sudan that I love. It is so complex that is why I feel I can spend a lifetime talking about all these complexities that are beautiful but at the same time stir up some ugly stuff as well. There are so many layers, there is the African side, there is the Arab side because this is our language, there is the Muslim part of it, so Sudan in very complex. Complex things and big things there some kind of beauty about it and this is the thing I miss, all these layers. It reminds me that life is very complex and it is not so straightforward.” The Potter’s Cast; Finding Freedom
Ill at ease with being called an artist, Enas prizes authenticity over imagination:
“Authenticity is your own point of view that stems from your own experience. Your story is always gonna be different and unique to you…sharing it with others will helps them to identify with you, because they are touched by something they know is true, and not a fraction of your imagination.” The Satir Sisters And that authenticity spurs her creative impulse:
My creative work is usually a response to what I go through as a person, and everything that comes with it: the vulnerability, the questioning and not having answers. It also reflects all the opinions that I have (of which I have too many) or the stories I would like to share. All of this doesn’t usually come from a comfortable place, it comes from challenging times, just like these. The current circumstances are yet another thing to try to make sense of, either personally or through what I do.” Enas Satir
Although her works speaks powerfully to the lived realities and causes of Blackness, feminism, racism, and Africanism, it is our shared human experiences she yearns to communicate through her raw, compassionate portraits of personal and family pain, isolation, vulnerability and the fragility of mental health. Hers is an art that seeks to raise questions but without preaching. A creative endeavour that seeks to listen too.
Above, a work dedicated to to all those suffering from mental illness. Part of a series sharing raw and moving testimonials of sufferers and their families. In “Black Smog”, Enas shares stories to highlight the stigma associated with mental health in conservative societies. Enas Satir: Raising Voices Through Art.
See too 31 Days of Narcissism
Listen to Enas talking about the challenges of lockdown in this short video. More links on Enas Satir and her remarkable work below:
“So many things need to be questioned.”
‘Dominance’, “a joint project between Satir Designs and Alfanjarya Art to express the hybrid identity of Sudan. For years our African face has been overshadowed by a more dominant Arab culture. This project is a creative attempt to capture the dominance of an Arab Sudan.”
Dominance – racial, cultural and idealogical dominance – is ceaselessly questioned in Enas Satir’s work.
Above, one of a series dedicated to Black Lives Matter.
Enas’s first-hand experience of exclusion, spoken and unspoken racism in Italy, Canada, the Gulf, as well as in Sudan is at the root of all her work. The enforced isolation of last year’s lockdown provided a stripped-back space for reflection and observation that heightened awareness of issues often lost in the noise of normal, pre-Covid life. She has powerfully expressed solidarity with Black Lives Matter and sought to bring home the cultural double standards that feed into racism throughout the world. Works such as Racism with Different Seasonings (below) call for greater awareness of the impact of unconscious prejudice.
“As we urge white people to unlearn harmful biases and patterns of privilege, so too must communities of colour dislodge the internalized prejudice that manifests as worship of whiteness and fairer tones. An invisible tonal scale is weaponized against darker-skinned Black people, wherever they dare to exist. As cutting as the N-word, the slur “Slave” is callously thrown around to describe Black Arabs throughout the Middle East and North Africa. But Enas recalls hearing it most frequently in Sudan, where it is used openly to degrade darker Sudanese presumed to be from non-Arabised tribes.”
The Inherited Scale Yousra Elbagir)
Clay as Canvas
Learn more about this piece in And My Country Will Live
Enas’s creative journey into ceramics came through a mentorship grant from Toronto Art Council offering her the opportunity to collaborate with Canadian ceramic artist, Erin Candela. Interviewed in The Potter’s Cast; Finding Freedom, Enas emphasizes how working in clay enabled her to channel her creative energy, enjoy the freedom to react intuitively to the medium, revel in flaws and explore the creative potential of imperfection. There is something exciting about the impossibility of duplicating a work exactly. And something exciting about allowing her project to unfold as she works the clay before going on to develop technical proficiency. As she notes, clay is her canvass and offers new and experimental ways to express her ideas and questions.
Below, her 2020 ceramic collection celebrating Sudanese female singers, Aghani Banat songs – songs often defiantly flirtatious, provocative and humourous. “As for the concept of Gonat itself: a lot of my art revolves around cultural issues and taboos, taboos that include discrimination or injustice or are essentially ugly.”
“Satir’s stylised illustrated faces and speech bubbles in Arabic, very much an extension of her illustration practice, and highly effective objects for spreading Satir’s messages. ‘They arrested me, lashed me and I repented’ says one; ‘No thank you! I’ll find a man myself!’ says another. These are ceramics that confront the realities of oppressed women around the world head-on, the lone face putting me in mind of the ‘talking heads’ on 24-hour news channels, broadcasting Satir’s message in a totally different way to her illustration work. The cylindrical aspect of the mugs and tea bowls allow you to encounter just the face, almost like having a TV on mute, or just the text, which grabs you and makes you acknowledge the issue.” Enas Satir: touched by something true
“For example the singer pieces, each pot is a song from one of these singers. So some of these songs is either talking about oppression or some of them are flirtatious, the majority is heavy kind of love and flirting and all of that which of course in a kind of conservative kind of society is not something that usually happens that the woman says, I am going to find the man myself, especially if she is supposed to say yes to the groom her father is going to actually choose. So each one has a different song and each song for me has a different meaning. Every song is a little bit different and every song has a bit of power especially when she is talking about how society is labeling her. This acceptance has a lot of power in it. the role of art in the Sudanese revolution of 2018 in the links below.” The Potter’s Cast; Finding Freedom
I would like to thank Enas for all her kindness in answering my questions below. It is a privilege to be able to learn more about this gifted and socially committed artist.
Imogen Thurbon: As we tentatively leave Covid lockdown behind, you have said isolation has always been part of your life. Could you tell us a little more about the nature and levels of isolation you have experienced and how they might inform your work?
Enas Satir: I feel we have left the lockdown behind, but I very much still feel like we are living in COVID, could be my reluctance to accept the ‘new normal’, or the ‘new old normal’… whatever this stage is.
I can talk about how the feeling of isolation has impacted me as a person, I am not sure if isolation can be seen through my work. But I feel it has given me the space I need to experiment or think more of what I am doing, or as we say in Sudanese “warm up the chair”, sitting for a while or dedicating the time necessary to practice a craft, which is definitely what I need to do to learn and build a more solid relationship with my craft.
Isolation has been a constant feeling, even with the absence of solitude, it could me my introverted nature, or could be my life in Sudan, where I felt I didn’t carry the same beliefs of conventions of people around me, which made me feel isolated despite always being surrounded with people.
Imogen: You are someone intensely aware of pain, anguish borne of injustice, of things not being right in the world. How does your art speak to that?
Enas: I know when I look at my art/creative projects as a whole they do give a feeling of doom and gloom lol, which makes me feel like I neglect expressing other positive feelings and experiences through my work, like joy, for example or the other beautiful things life gifts us for free, like the play of light and shadow, and trees and plants and the ways waves play in the lake… I don’t intentionally ‘decide’ on sharing pain or anguish, but they keep coming up for some reason. My focus on pain might be something like shadow work, you need to go through it, get it out of your system, before you can fully experience life and invite joy in. So this could be a phase, I am not sure!
Imogen: What does the medium of ceramics offer you as an artist that other media don’t? How do you feel while creating a piece? So much in the history of world ceramics is owed to early and indeed contemporary women ceramic craftspeople. How conscious are you of / how focused are you on your role specifically as a woman potter and as a Sudanese woman potter ? What is the most challenging part of the creative process for you?
Enas: Clay has incredible healing abilities, it is exactly what I think I needed when I moved to Canada. Sometimes the universe gives you small unexpected gifts and I think having clay some into my life unexpectedly and thankfully staying, is something I am definitely grateful for. Also my art practice before clay was focused on digital illustrations, which with time I started to have different and mixed feelings about… unsure if that’s what I wanted to continue doing, and felt stuck – I lost the passion for it. I even hesitated to fully embrace ceramics at first, because the few people who were familiar with my work, knew me and wanted to work with me because of my digital illustrations. There is always fear or hesitation of starting something different for some reason. I try to be more courageous with my work and experiment more, cause a lot of times I bore even myself!
Imogen: How do you see your work in ceramics evolving? What would you like to experiment with / explore further in the field of ceramics?
Enas: I see myself as a student of ceramics, and I hope to progress to be a better student over time, to learn from my mistakes and also learn from others. I try not to only focus on the techniques, but on a more holistic picture of it, also on the healing part of it, of getting to know the medium as a friend even and work on building the relationship, and be open on what it’s willing to teach me. I am also deeply interested in ceramics and pottery and how they always seem to pop up when you touch on history, when you try to get to know a certain culture and its rituals.
Imogen: Your ceramic works reverberate with the songs and poems of Sudanese life. Could you tell us a little more about why you use these songs and poems that become in some sense solidified and three-dimensional in clay?
Enas: I am not sure. The project of Aghani Banat came about in a very spontaneous way. It could be being away from Sudan for over four years now and looking for ways to bring home to the home I am creating here. But when I was in Sudan I could always see, despite how hard it is to be in Sudan, there is some magical, raw beauty in Sudan, that is not easy to see from a distance, in the songs, the poems, the little rituals and traditions we have that tell a thousand stories. I sometimes feel I can spend a lifetime exploring it for myself and maybe sharing it with others in a couple of projects here and there. I feel Sudan is a hidden beauty that has been absent from the world scene, and I am happy to see Sudanese creators bring more of this beauty into the world.
Imogen: You have said making beautiful objects wouldn’t be enough for you creatively and you have spoken of the essential role “ugly” art plays for you. Could you talk little more about your perceptions of beauty and ugliness in artistic life?
Enas: Beauty and ‘ugliness’ in general have been intriguing concepts for me not only in what I do, but in who I am as a person as well. Being labeled as ugly early on, then growing up to find and discover my own sense of beauty. It is weird how the same thing can be both ugly and beautiful depending on how to look at it, and who is looking at it.
Imogen: Questions. Many describe you as a questioner. Often a courageous questioner of painful realities. Has the nature of the questions you have asked in the past changed in any way recently?
Enas: I hope not to only be a questioner of painful realities but a questioner in general, and I do think we are put here to find things out for ourselves, and not necessarily find answers…instead of inheriting and borrowing answers from others, I feel I always have many questions and barely any answers, and I don’t know if this world is made in a way to give us readily clear-cut answers.
Thank you, once again, Enas, and wishing you every success in your coming artistic ventures.
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