Artist Ahmed El Hassan is currently a resident of Manchester U.K. He was born in Algorair and spent most of his formative years between Algorair and port Sudan
He had previously held exhibitions at the Goethe Institute (1982) and Wattato Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya (1983). He also exhibited a collection of his works at the Library Theatre in Manchester (1989), which was the first of many solo exhibitions he held across the U.K.
To view the work of Ahmed El Hassan is to be taken on a journey whether to an Irish Centre in Manchester – awash with interesting character, or transported to experience different terrains and cultures with a unique sense of timelessness. There is something ethereal about images that prompt poems of deserved recognition to the evocation nature of his paintings
‘ .. there is a tyranny of the desert, victoriously vanquished by the blueness of the skies and the mysterious presence of the Nile.’
Sudanese born Ahmed spent his formative years between Port Sudan on the Red Sea and Algorair, a village in the north where he was born. During hot summers the family would return to a horizon of desert sands and their traditional village beside the lush embankment of the Nile.
‘These sleeping villages are actually wide awake the absence of humans in some of them is exceptionally rich in meaning.’
In the household where ‘art’ was always present there were no surprises when Ahmed’s love of art developed through school. Shaped by a British curriculum, Sudan being a former British Colony, there was no connection to Islam, Nubian, Arab or African influences. These would emerge within the Art School at Khartoum – where life models were male and clad in shorts. The debates were important. What was moral or immoral, was art of art’s sake or art within a wider role in society? Art was ‘finding its way’ regarding tradition and religion. The relationship of Ahmed was between art, spirituality and Sufism – for him this meant ‘freedom’: freedom of expression, tolerance and connecting with creativity.
Ahmed taught in schools but, with increased concern surrounding the poor adult literacy he encountered, he joined the Ministry of Education. As Head of the Audio Visual Department he promoted art as a medium of instruction, whilst illustrating books long into the night.
His first solo exhibition in Khartoum was at Goethe Institute (1982). By 1983 whilst attending a UNESCO co-sponsored seminar on adult education Ahmed exhibited his work at the Attato Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya. His work confidently pushed boundaries, from canvas to wood, mixed media to pen and ink, representational to abstract – refusing to be pigeonholed. Even then his work was untitled.
Painting is a language in itself and should communicate ..
Interpretation should always depend upon the nature of the observer
In his government role Ahmed had a need to know more about adult education, so came to Manchester University and graduated in 1989.
For over 25 years Ahmed’s aim has been to promote the accessibility of art to the general community.
‘Art should never be just for elite’
Using his art, Ahmed worked with UNICEF, Oxfam, Save the Children and Voluntary Services Overseas. That led him to co-found a group i the UK called (Southern Voices) with colleagues. Formed to crate bridges globally between people from the ‘north and south’, the project has flourished with contributions including economic and environmental campaigns. The group wanted to show communities that they were more than exotic drummers, dancers and artists! Working with schools and museums, they can explain to people at firsthand what an object is about, the story behind it, the country it comes from, the culture surrounding it and the people behind it – making the whole experience more accessible, meaningful and memorable. For his own part Ahmed encourages teachers to bring a global element into the curriculum through art.
When asked what informs his art, Ahmed recounts a conversation where he was expressing his frustration about not having enough time to paint. He loved his educational and community work but felt pulled away from his painting. Wondering how to resolve this conflict he confided in a close friend who advised: ‘Ahmed, don’t worry – they feed each other! And he found that she was right.
‘When I come to paint, they are all there. ‘Home is there ..
Home is where I was born and where I live now
They are both here in my heart
My family is here, my children are here
My extended family is back in Sudan
The weather of Sudan is in my heart
The weather here (Manchester) is ..
So its all, that’s part of the journey!
Ahmed’s recent work: Reflections and Exploration (Arison Gallery Manchester 2010)
displays a mix of abstract forms and landscapes – vibrant, colourful and ethereal.’ This is a collection of paintings that I have been working on in the last few years. They reflect different stages and moods .. some follow a theme of experimentation, some are reflections on travel or memories.’ Use of acrylics and oils can be seen as well as paint mixed with different materials to create different textures. Ahmed often waits for the picture to come to him being more caught up in the process of painting than the planning a figure.