Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq, Galerie de l’Institut français de Karthoum, Karthoum, 25 January – 12 February 2015
Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq: Women in Crystal Cubes, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, 12 November 2016 – 14 January 2017
— Sharjah Art Foundation Collection
Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq is now considered a pioneering figure of the Sudanese art scene, and was one of the first women artists to graduate from the College of Fine Arts in Khartoum, in 1963. Her degree enabled her to further her education at the Royal College of Art in London from 1964 to 1966, after which she decided to return to Sudan to teach in her turn and to bring a new critical perspective to the School of Khartoum, which dominated the country’s scene at the time. In 1971, she and two of her students, Muhammad Hamid Shaddad and Nayla El Tayib, founded the Crystalist Group, whose aesthetic and conceptual stance aimed at creating an art form that challenged the male-centred and official norms of Sudanese art, which was predominantly occupied by men. In 1978, the three artists wrote and co-signed the text Am-Bayan Am-Kristali (the Crystalist manifesto) in Arabic, in which the name of the group is clarified: “the Cosmos is a project of a transparent crystal with no veil and eternal depth. The truth is that the Crystalists’ perception of time and space is different from that of others. The goal of the Crystalists is to bring back to life the language of the crystal and to transform language into something more transparent, in which no word can veil another – no selectivity in language. […] We are living a new life, and this life needs a new language and new poetry.” The Crystalists sought to find an aesthetic and critical language that would emphasise the notions of pleasure and knowledge in order to permanently abolish differences and boundaries.
Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq is greatly influenced by Sudanese spiritual practices and, as such, explores a variety of ceremonies, rituals, and manners of worship. She is particularly interested in zār (demonic spirits) worship, an exorcism rite performed by women in central Sudan. Her large-scale paintings on canvas depict the twisted faces of women, their contorted and at times monstrous bodies in diffracted vision. The artist’s range of colours favours natural hues and uses strong luminous contrasts to accentuate the mental quality of the experiences she or others have gone through. The female bodies, whether single or multiple, are placed inside undetermined spaces. Often depicted in situations of sharing or collective experiences, the women are connected by fluxes, roots, and other rhizomatic shapes, the visibility of which prompts a feminist reinterpretation of cubism and surrealism. Her oils on canvas are the expression both of intense spiritual experiences and of a critical vision of a standardised reality to which we are all expected to conform and in which we are all supposed to remain unchanged. In this sense, the crystal is a prism through which one is able to apprehend a multitude of realities – shifting, free, and unpredictable. Realities which, as in nature, undergo permanent transformation.