Text by Lucrezia Sgualdino

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Sudanese painter and pioneer in her country’s art, presents her first solo exhibition in London. A rich collection of historical and present works goes on stage at the Serpentine Gallery. 

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag was one of the first women to graduate and pursue her academic training in art. She has always questioned artistic knowledge and aesthetic traditions by proposing anti-academic working models and revolutionizing traditional technique and challenging male-dominated conceptions of art. Indeed, in 1971 she founded Crystalism, whose manifesto provides aesthetic commentaries on such important categories as time, knowledge, the measurement of space, language, beauty and the contingency of the elements of art. The movement not only characterized its project as liberal, strong message at a time when Sudan followed a version of socialism as official policy, but also the world as infinite and unlimited; sought to reclaim pleasure as a means of discovering truth; understood appearances and perceptions of solid objects as mere suggestions; and embraced a heterodox materialism based on mutual contradiction. 

The intangible aspects of women’s lives in Africa have always been the focus of her work. She investigated cultural and religious ceremonies, rituals and cults of all kinds. In her paintings she has been inspired by the work of William Blake and Francis Bacon, painting deformed and monstrous female bodies and faces within large, ill-defined spaces. These often enter into interactions with nature, aspects of mythology and stories of spirits. The color palette is muted and soft, all shades refer to the soft colors si sun, sand and sky. Today all his work flows into the exhibition States of Oneness.

“I have completed new paintings for the exhibition are shown alongside works from across my career. These are all connected by images of humans and plants – the vital elements that constitute all life. It is wonderful to ben working with Serpentine, Sharjah Ar Foundation and The Africa Institute on this project.”

– Kamala Ibrahim Ishag

Two Women (Eve and Eve), 2016.
Dinner Table with Embroidered Cloth, 1974.
Procession (Zaar), 2015.

The ever-changing and inevitable cycle of life is found in works such as Women in Crystal Cubes, 1984 and Four Faces of Eve, 2016, featured in the exhibition. In the painting Blues for the Martyrs, 2022 we see faces trapped in spheres floating in a blue environment; it represents an homage to the massacre of the Siege of Khartoum in which dozens of men and women lost their lives by drowning in a river. These figures are imagined here as the new life reborn through plants. The connection between the human being and the flora is also explored in Bait Al-Mal, 2019: here she rediscovers the landscape of her childhood, figures and houses coming together through trees and roots. Kamala in her extensive work has found the key to revisiting a tough and challenging tradition by shaping a unique and personal innovative style becoming a mentor for many young people who have decided to take to heart her own idea of working in modern art. 


The exhibition is organized with Sharjah Art Foundation in collaboration with The Africa Institute, and will be on view from October 7, 2022 to January 29, 2023 at the Serpentine South in London. 


For more information

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag. Photo: © Mohamed Noureldin.
Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: States of Oneness, 2022. Photo: George Darrell, Courtesy Serpentine.

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