Mohammed (Mo) Abdullah Abbaro's studio, London. Photo by Issam Ahmed Abdelhafiez.
Mohammed (Mo) Abdullah Abbaro's studio, London. Photo by Issam Ahmed Abdelhafiez.

The Khartoum School

Mohammed (Mo) Abdullah Abbaro's studio, London. Photo by Issam Ahmed Abdelhafiez.
Issam Ahmed Abdelhafiez

After independence in 1956, Sudanese graduates of the colonial education system took over leading positions in the new state and thus contributed to the emergence of urban culture and modern art. These cultural developments became most visible from the 1950s to the 1980s, a period that was later called The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan. This collection includes a number of works by artists from this period, photographed and collected by the Sudanese painter, illustrator and photographer Issam Abdelhafeiz. Dr Mohammed A. Hassan, the writer of this introductory text and the artist bios included in this collection, worked through discussion with Issam to define and contextualise the experience of The Khartoum School. The writing of the School’s story and the artist bios involved a review of various texts, consultation of various archives, and interviews with some of the artists, to whom we are very thankful.

Modern cultural production in the Sudan flourished in the 1950s, following a synthesis of two streams: the continuity of local cultures, and the development of colonial and postcolonial connections to European culture. It added new artistic and literary genres to the cultural practices in the Sudan, mainly: modern painting (easel painting), drama and novel. The representatives of the first stream in the field of visual arts were many self-taught artists, main among them: Ali Osman, Ahmed Salim, Abu-al-Hassan Madani and Musa Kazaam Giha. The representatives of the modern stream were the artists who studied in the department of art in the Bakht al-Ruda Institute for training teachers, and those who studied in the Secondary Technical School (STS) in Khartoum, (the present College of Fine and Applied Arts in Sudan University of Science and Technology). This second category of artists include: Abdullah al-Gunaid, Abdul-Raazig Abdul-Gaffaar, Idris Al-Banna, Bastaawi Bagddadi, besides the founders of the first modern school of art in the Sudan, The Khartoum School. These founders were: Osman Wagialla, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Ahmed Mohammad Shibrain, Mohammed Ahmed Abbaro, and Magdhub Rabbah.

Though small in number by that time, the graduates of Bakht al-Ruda and STS worked collectively to create an active art movement. With the increasing of their numbers, that collectivity gradually dissolved, and separate groups emerged, the leading one being The Khartoum School of Art, as it was named by Dennis Williams, the Guyanese professor of art who was teaching in Khartoum. This School should be viewed as part of the above described artistic climate, putting its artists in direct connection with younger artists who would contribute to the developments of the School through engaging in intellectual discussions and exchanging the results of their artistic experiences, exemplary artists are: Salih al-Zaki, Taj Ahmed, Ibrahim al-Awaam, Kamala Ibrahim Ishaag, Omer Khairy and Hussein Shariffe.

Salih al-Zaki and al-Awaam actively participated in the group discussions organized by El-Salahi and Shibrain. Kamala, who would become in the mid-1970s one of the founders of the Crystalist School, accepting in the 1960s El-Salahi’s idea of using what he called ‘earthy colours of natural environment of Sudan’. Taj Ahmed responded from a representational point of view to the main question raised by the Khartoum School: how to creatively reflect in the art the uniqueness of (the local culture of) Sudan? Hussein Shariffe approached this question through using simplified forms in his paintings, and filmmaking to reach the widest possible audience. Omer Khairy used only black line to produce highly self-sufficient art works, a technique which appeared occasionally in El-Salahi’s early works. 

The Khartoum School, a modernist movement that sought to develop a new visual vocabulary to reflect the distinctive identity of a newly independent nation, elevated Sudan’s contribution in the field of visual arts to international renown. Still today, the visual vocabulary of the ‘Khartoum School’ is recalled from time to time, consciously or unconsciously revealed here and there in the works of the young generation of Sudanese artists, though the ideas behind this vocabulary are not accepted by many of them.

For copyright information on specific works included in this collection, please contact

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