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

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Amidst the horrors of war, the voices of poets and the works of artists urge us to hold fast to our humanity. They offer us insight, compassion and consolation in the darkest of times. Above, details of paintings exhibited in the Downtown Gallery last year.

Artists in the Midst of War

Downtown Gallery’s Rahiem Shaddad Speaks Out

Sponsor an Artist Lifeline

Artists in the Midst of War

A year ago today, I turned left off Pio Yokwan Road, leaving behind its relentless hustle and din, and stepped into the bird-loud, tree-shaded cool of 57 Street, Khartoum 2. I was heading for the Downtown Gallery. Home to over three hundred works of art last year, the gallery is also a vital creative space for visiting Sudanese artists. Over recent years, The Downtown, together with several other new galleries in the capital, has been a hub for Khartoum-based creative initiatives and exhibitions. See more in Going Downtown

The gallery sits in a sandy grid of residential streets, dotted with mechanics’ workshops, cafes, ful restaurants, soft drink and grocers’ stalls. Today these streets and so many others in Khartoum 2 lie at the epicentre of the military conflict ripping the capital apart. The buildings that have survived the relentless bombing of the past month, stand pitted and gouged by artillery fire. Many are no more than burnt-out shells. Everyone who could flee has fled. And with them all semblance of normal life. Whole communities have been devastated. For the latest military and humanitarian developments, see BBC Sudan News and Aljazeera Sudan. Above, left, works on display at the gallery.

The tragedy ravaging Khartoum and now tragically engulfing other regions, has displaced millions and cost thousands of Sudanese lives. Among them, many in the creative and performing arts. The past two weeks alone have seen the loss of Sudan’s first professional actress, Asia Abdelmajid and the singer and expert in Baggara music, Shaden Gardood, pictured left (Shadin Gardood, Facebook), killed in crossfire at her Omdurman home.

It was this time two years ago that I first came across the delicate and multifaceted work of the talented young artist, Mutaz al-Fateh, pictured left, exhibiting in the grounds of Sudan’s National Museum. This May, Mutaz was to find himself wounded and trapped in the Museum as shelling raged overhead for several days. When his food and water ran out, he survived by drinking the organic, plant-based tints that inform his artistic vision. Mutaz is now safe, after a difficult rescue operation but other artists have suffered similar plights. AbdulRahiem Shaddad, of the Downtown Gallery, recalls that many artists have been reported missing, kidnapped or unable to leave their studios.

Get to know Mutaz Fateh in Coffee and Hibiscus Flowers 2

As the war rages on, many fear for the very fabric of Sudan’s cultural heritage, as shelling, a near total breakdown in security and looting take their toll; see Sudan’s Museums and millenia of heritage are caught in the crossfire. Below, Al Arabiya Sudan Facebook report, showing the devastating aftermath of a fire in Mohammed Omar Bashir Centre for Sudanese Studies, Al-Ahlia University.

Downtown Gallery’s Rahiem Shaddad Speaks Out

Below, founder and inspiration behind Khartoum’s Downtown Gallery, Rahiem Shaddad, in a photo taken in May 2022. It is a great relief to know that Rahiem is safe.

You can see many of the pieces on display at the Downtown Gallery last year in Going Downtown.

A couple of days ago, Rahiem was kind enough to speak to me from Cairo via WhatsApp and it’s a privilege for me to be able to pass on his thoughts and personal experiences surrounding the situation for artists in Khartoum below.

Rahiem says;

“The hardest thing, personally is having no news of the gallery – we lost all communication from the second day of Eid. We do know that the supermarket next to the gallery was raided but we don’t know what’s happened to the gallery; if it’s been looted, if it’s even still standing We just hope the paintings are safe.

The level of sadness I think among so many people in the arts is way worse than after events surrounding the 2019 revolution. Then there was hope and art called people together. But this war is not our war. It’s a war between the SAF and RSF waged in Khartoum. We are not part of it but we are caught in the midst of it. I think that’s why many artists have stopped working on their art; they just want to help in practical ways – helping with people’s health needs, helping their family and relatives to get to safety outside Khartoum. Also, in wartime where’s the demand for art? Most people in the arts from Khartoum are no longer in their own homes, and have lost their own spaces where they can work and create. They just had to flee their homes, leaving behind all their work and materials and equipment. So far I’ve seen no art on the war itself. And there’s no internet much of the time so artists can’t even work and publish online. I only know of one artist, Hussein Mirghani, who is still painting. For him, it’s a form of release and meditation.

Below, just some of Downtown Gallery’s recent initiatives and exhibitions. More on Sponsor a Sudanese Artist below.

Instagram Downtown Gallery

Many artists have fled to Medani, Kassala, Sennar, Northern Province and a few, like me, have managed to get to Egypt. But for so many others, it’s really difficult. They just don’t have the means to leave Khartoum; they don’t have the funds to take their families away to safety.

It’s so hard to see all this destruction. I have to say I had a very rough first week. It dawned on me as the war went on that I may never open the gallery doors again. It was so hard to know that our staff were in real need. And we’d recently carried out renovations.

I have just started living here in Cairo and it’s very difficult in terms of being accepted – some of my paperwork isn’t accepted, I need to earn money and my residency status is only for six months initially. Like so many other Sudanese, this is such an extreme form of starting over, a reset that nobody signed up for and nobody was prepared for. Starting from nothing. Many artists are rooted in their communities and connected to the spaces they work in, they feel safe in the personal spaces where they paint and express themselves and that’s all lost. So there’s a very blurred vision of what comes next. Really their hopes and dreams start to vanish in this situation.

Having said this, though, I think Sudanese artists do know they want to do something and they want a role moving forward – whether its working in new spaces, new markets, working online. They want to be part of the next step.”

Below, some of the Downtown Gallery’s exhibits, 2022.

Sponsor an Artist Lifeline

Instagram Downtown Gallery

At this shocking time, it is so difficult for those of us outside Sudan to know how we can help. If you have a commitment to the arts in Sudan, Sponsor a Sudanese Artist seeks to offer the kind of practical support you might be thinking of.

Rahiem has been instrumental in launching the Sponsor a Sudanese Artist initiative, which centres on funding Sudanese artists in need at this time of great violence and instability. See Sponsor A Sudanese Artist to learn more about this vital initiative, which is carefully designed to target and support those most in need. Below, just a few of the many artists Sponsor a Sudanese Artist seeks to support. Learn more in:

Meet the Artists

More on Sudanese arts and literature, including the work of ceramicists Siddig El-Nigoumi and Mo Abbaro, artists Amel Bashir, Salah Elmur, Reem Mutasim Bashir and Dar Al Naim:

The Scorpion and The Coffee Pot

“I write my songs to the sun”

Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings

Amel Bashir Taha Delicate Defiance


“How Earth Works”

Kamala Ishag – A Homecoming

Inscriptions on Rosewater

Malikah ad-Dar – Trailblazer

Icons of the Sudanese Home

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