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

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Above, details of Kamal Ishaq’s murals at The Sudan National Museum. They reveal many of the motifs and textures which came to inform her later work.

Kamala Ishaq at The Sudan National Museum

Women’s History Month

This year’s Women’s History Month post celebrates the work of the internationally acclaimed Sudanese artist, Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq (Ishag). Background to this groundbreaking artist’s life and professional trajectory is provided in Forests and Spirits, highlighting the 2018 London-based exhibition Forests and Spirits, which featured the works of both Kamala Ishaq and Salah Elmur. The post also includes a video interview (translated into English) where the artist reveals her inspiration and creative processes.

Above and in title photo, a detail from Kamala Ishaq’s mural in Sudan National Museum, Khartoum. This mural depicts aspects of Sudan’s – and wider Africa’s – great prehistoric artistic legacy, in fluid ochre tones.

All photos in this blogpost, unless otherwise credited, were taken by me, with permission of the galleries featured.

Setting the Scene

Kamala Ishaq and Women’s History Month

Kamala Ishaq’s Murals at The Sudan National Museum

Setting the Scene

Kamala Ishaq, pictured below (BBC News, link below) is now in her energetic eighties. She remains one of the most original of contemporary Sudanese artists. While she insists modestly that she wasn’t the first woman to be admitted to the Khartoum College of Fine and Applied Art in the early 1960s – a handful of primary and intermediate school teachers from the Ministry of Education, she is quick to remind us, were also admitted at the time – she was the first female student to attend in her own right. Forests and Spirits

Kamal Ishaq forged and continues to forge pioneering roles as researcher, educator, faculty head, mentor and artist. Her Crystalist movement enriched, challenged and reworked The Khartoum School’s understanding of Sudanese cultural and Sufi artistic heritage, adding an internationalist and conceptual perspective.

Right, Kamala Ishaq undertaking rubbings at The Sudan National Museum as part of a preservation programme at the museum to document the reliefs adorning ancient northern Sudanese temples brought to Khartoum and which were vulnerable to deterioration due to climatic conditions in the capital. At the same time, the museum was making full scale copies of Christian-era frescos from the Cathedral of Faras. Kamala Ishaq’s time at the museum was to have a profound influence on her work. Learn how below. Photo; reproduced in 030 Online Cultural Majlis: Kamala Ishaq 15th July 2020 كمالا ابراهيم اسحق

Photo of Kamala Ishaq, as credited in screenshot.

BBC Focus on Africa

Kamala Ishaq and Women’s History Month

While her art enjoys universal appeal, Kamala Ishaq has been a mentor and inspiration for women artists both in Sudan and abroad. She expresses complex dimensions of Sudanese women’s lives in a unique and arresting form. She has also lent her support to social movements led by women in Sudan.

Ishaq’s work “has focused on the intangible aspects of women’s lives in Sudan, Africa and the Arab worlds. Her interest in women’s lives led to field research and large-scale paintings of Zār, a traditional Sudanese women’s ceremony that entails spirit possession and trance-like performance. The works and writing of William Blake and Francis Bacon were a large influence in Ishag’s portraits of distorted figures. Ishag has remained active in organizing exhibitions with younger generations of women artists.”

2019 Principal Prince Claus Laureate

Kamala Ishaq’s Dinner Table with Embroidered Cloth, Sharjah Art Foundation Collection.

Kamala Ishaq’s Murals, The Sudan National Museum

Kamala Ishaq’s portfolio is diverse and well documented. Her fascination and talent for large scale canvasses and murals led to her being invited in 1970-71 to create key sections of the murals adorning the entrance hall of The Sudan National Museum.

It is these works that today’s post celebrates. Next time you step into the museum, a treasure trove of artifacts spanning prehistory, Kushite, Christian and Muslim eras, take a few minutes to linger in the entrance hall and take in the murals.

Below, the entrance hall of The Sudan National Museum, with Kamala Ishaq’s prehistoric (left) and Christian era murals (right). Photo; still from Aljazeera documentary, credited below.

Below, Among my sources for this post are the two documentary interviews (Arabic) with Kamala Ishaq below:

Aljazeera documentary interviewing Kamala Ishaq

030 Online Cultural Majlis: Kamala Ishaq 15th July 2020 كمالا ابراهيم اسحق

Above, a 3D model of the Cathedral of Faras, a marvel of Christian-era Sudan (Sudan National Museum). The first floor of the Sudan National Museum is dedicated to artifacts from this unique period in Sudan’s history. Photo; Sudan National Museum Guide, open access, see below.

Kamala Ishaq’s Murals, The Sudan National Museum

Kamala Ishaq’s murals embody the depth and diversity of Sudan’s artistic heritage, conceived, in collaboration with her fellow artist who provided the other, Meroitic and Nabatean murals, to reflect the spectrum and interconnection of cultural influences that have shaped Sudan. Her homage to prehistoric art is a reclaiming of powerful African depictions of reality millennia before western models of esthetics prevailed and the textures, tones and forms of the pre-renaissance Christian images she studied at the museum were to inform her later work – see for example, Awaiting the Birth of a Child, below. She has acknowledged the profound influence her time at the museum has had on her work, and in particular the Faras frescos (see more on the frescos below. It has been noted that this formative experience at the museum may have contributed to her diverging from the Khartoum School ethos, which drew in part from Arabic calligraphic forms and esthetic values, to establish a school in her own right. In some sense, her work may be seen as a reweaving of the complex fabric of Muslim, Christian and African Sudanese culture.

Left, Saint Ann, see below. (photo, Imogen Thurbon)


Above, Awaiting the Birth of a Child, Kamala Ishaq, Forests and Spirits, Saatchi Gallery, London.

The Cathedral of Faras – The Context

“Faras, at the border of Egypt and Sudan, was the capital of the province Nobadia. Formerly independent, this region located between the 1st and 3rd cataracts remained the general headquarters of a bishopric and of a viceroy, the eparch of Nubia, representing the ruler of Dongola. Threatened by the implementation of the Aswan Dam, the cathedral was excavated by the Polish mission from 1961-4.” (Museum Illustrated Guide). Under the excavation agreement, half the 67 frescos or wall murals unearthed were sent to Poland to be exhibited there.

“Nobadian rulers controlling the Nile Valley from the first to the third cataracts converted to Christianity around 548 AD influenced by  missionaries sent from Constantinople by the Empress Theodora. The first cathedral was erected in the 7th century, when the city was still known as Pachoras, and likely stood at the exact site where Polish archaeologists taking part in the Nubia Campaign discovered the subsequent 8th century cathedral.” Photo, screenshot; Faras Gallery, Warsaw

Above, Below, details of Kamala Ishaq’s murals (photos, Imogen Thurbon). Among the scenes depicted, is the crucifixion and the Madonna and child. Scroll to the end of the post to see some of the exhibits which inspired the scenes depicted.

Below, notes on some of the remarkable Christian-era exhibits in the museum.

An Illustrated Guide to the Sudan National Museum

This is a cultural post for

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3 comments on “Kamala Ishaq at Sudan National Museum

  1. Mohamed says:

    where is the copy right of the photographer?


    1. Hello, Mohamed, I took the photos with permission of galleries. Is that what you are asking?


      1. Please do let me know if there is a problem with anything here. My blog is a free educational resource. Other photos are credited or linked to the open access YouTube videos they appeared in.


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