December 20, 2005
I ate my meal between two massacres…When Bertolt Brecht wrote those lines, he was referring to the two World Wars. But what does an artist say in a place where life plods on between many massacres?
After Darfur I had never imagined I could get to see something like contemporary paintings from Sudan. The reports of endless killings that have continued to pour out of that country would leave one little incentive to imagine that anybody in a place like that would have the inclination to paint. Yet, the small bunch of paintings from Sudan recently displayed in New Delhi seemed to demonstrate that, yes, there would be people who would make painting possible even in the middle of massacres.
Sudan, once the seat of an ancient civilisation on the African continent, today tends to be perceived as the dark country in the middle of what the colonisers once called the ‘Dark Continent’. A black hole of a country that sucks in whatever comes its way and turns it into canon fodder. Yet they don’t seem to be unaided in whatever they are doing. “The United States has so many different agencies and branches of government involved in Sudan, sometimes in apparent contradiction to each other,” the Economist recently wrote in one its commentaries, “that it is often hard to follow who is doing what.”
The paintings that were brought to Delhi probably were not the best that the Sudanese can paint. There were some water colours of farms and quaint village scenes, some calligraphy, a painting ‘painted’ with strips of leather that would convey some raw anger. But my favourite Sudanese painting was not among the ones that were on display. It is the one that was recently published in a western journal. It depicted the destruction of a village, the painter’s village, by armed gunmen, some on horseback others on foot. My hunch was that it was painted by a child artist.
For children alone are capable of painting a village facing a massacre in simple lines and colours. As if it were about a lamb sitting in the sun. The images were silent and unspoken. Only a child artist could have done it, or a master trying to see things like a child. For wasn’t it Picasso who said that as a child he would paint like a master, and then it took him all the years of work on the canvass to learn to paint like a child!
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