Shams is the Arabic word for sun.
It is also the name of a tiny, ramshackle art gallery owned and run by Misbah, his brother Mutaz and their friends Afifi and Hussein. In a country where art is not at the forefront of media discussion the quartet get by selling, framing, illustrating and painting in a leisurely sort of way. In fact when I was there Hussein was immediately offered a back rub and called an ‘old man’ and offered a seat. Their work does not reflect this attitude to life, however, it is alive with feeling, saturated in ambiguity and representative of a Sudan only locals would understand.
Above: Watercolour paintings stacked ‘neatly’ in a corner by Hussein Merghani.
Below: Getting that well deserved back rub.
Although the gallery is by no means a commercial success, each of the four artists exhibits and sells prints in their own style. From Afifi’s large abstract acrylics to Mutaz’s delicate pastels to Hussein’s detailed watercolour landscapes-Misbah frames their work, although I am not sure if he paints or not-they show a side to Sudan removed from the creepy souvenir shops and over saturated media infamy.
Ibrahim El-Salahi, the Sudanese painter and pioneer of ‘African Modernism’ said “African artists are working in a vacuum.”
African art has long been explored and venerated as traditional and tribal rather than contemporary. African artists often have very little funding, small circles of interest and have restrictions on a lot of subject matter. As Hussein explained to me, he cannot possible paint a nude or anything mildly political without getting into trouble. This means that artists such as those I met at Shams gallery continue on in relative obscurity, but the joy of creation is ever present and that is enough for any true art lover.