Mohamed Hamza is a well-known Sudanese- British Artist, who lives in UK. Hamza’s artistic journey has completed 30 years
late last January. We had the great honor of chatting with him about his love story with painting. Hamza gave us exclusive details about his beginnings, his projects, his artistic views, and enlightened us about his plans for the future.
“Like most of the traditional Sudanese families, I was supposed to study medicine, and my younger brother should enter the engineering field. I visited Egypt in 1985, when I was still on the second class at high school. That trip was an important experience in my life, I got lost in Cairo, and I found myself in “Elsaida Zainab” square, beside the spirituals, there was a market, a lot of painters were there, drawing live portraits and paintings of the people interested” said Mohamed Hamza, while expressing how amazed he was by the sight of people features appears magically on the papers by the artists’ pencils. He stayed there until 4 am, flabbergasted by what he saw, shifting between the painters to see more.
Before that Hamza’s experience with painting wasn’t more than drawing at the art class during school years, though from an early age, his teachers were noticing his talent. He was often asked to draw on the posters that they put on the school walls, and his tutors were always praising his clean and organized notebooks that filled with colors. When Mohamed Hamza visited Alexandria during his trip to Egypt, he stayed with some of his friends that were attending the faculty of medicine there, so they solicited him to draw some biological abstract for them along with anatomy materials, and they were amazed by the drawings. That was after his experience on Elsaida Zainab, and from that point Hamza found himself thinking of studying arts, and the desire of being an artist found its way to his heart.
Hamza says: “I started taking this seriously, when I was hitting back home, I took the train from “Seidi Jaber” the last train station north Egypt to “Aswan” in the south, I remember that the train windows has no glasses, and kept thinking how to break the news to my family, and weather if art studies is what I really want”. That was his first step on his journey to the south as he names it, mentioning that the news he carried to his family caused a great raw at their home.
The intense arguments between him and his father ended by making a deal; that if Hamza skipped the second class and passed the Sudanese high school certificate exams at that year, he can go to Art college, otherwise he will finish high school and go to the faculty of medicine. He says: “I passed the exams and reached my dream, though I was always embarrassed by the necessary of proving that arts are not a bad field and there is a bright future going down this road as well”. He also started supporting himself financially, because he thought that as his family wasn’t too happy about his choice they don’t have to cover his expenses.
“I entered the college of Arts 1986; our first school trip was to southern “Alangasana”, by train too, to the south too. That was my first time to experience painting from live landscapes, among a group of arts students. the tutors were choosing his works as example. It was a successful trip, and from the paintings I drew there I held my first exhibit”. Said Hamza when we asked about his early period in the art school.
The 21st of January, was the date of his first demonstration of his work in a gallery, it was at Hilton Hotel in Khartoum, as he say it was the first step for something far more greater; “I went to Britain 1990, and from that point, my whole journey took a new twist, more serious one, the 21st of January 2017 coincide with my 30 anniversary as an artist. January has always witnessed a great step in my path, either finishing an old project, or adding a new achievement to my carrier”.
Before going to England, in 1989, Mohamed Hamza visited Spain, when he showed some of his work in the African Cultural Center in Madrid. The artists Ahmed Alshareef and Tarig Awad Elkareem, were with him in this journey, all three shared the gallery together. The exhibit was met with a lot of welcoming and great feedback from the visitors. It was a huge success, which gave him a greater motivation to go forward, plus his visit to Europe made him realize that arts are more appreciated there, and it has a grand future. “My trip to Spain was my second time to leave the country, before that in Egypt I discovered arts, and saw how people paid great attention to it, then in Spain I found out that Europe has a major concern for art, and that this field is more expanded and fruitful there, with superior possibilities”.
When he got back to Sudan at the same year, Hamza held another exhibit at the Hilton; “A man named “Makkawi” bought some paintings from me, he is a Lebanese-British man. We sat together and chatted about my story with art, he suddenly suggested that I go to London, and offered his help to do that. He send me an invitation from there, helped me with the visa procedures. I took my things and I went to London, I took the money for the paintings he bought there as we agreed formerly, because it will do me greater help in there to start my artistic journey in Britain”.
“When I came to England, it was extremely cold; it was a big change from Sudan’s weather. I remember spending my whole first day immersed in hot water at the bathtub. Neither the heavy clothes nor the fireplace have warmed my body. I went out the next day to be shocked by the white streets filled with ice, so I went back home, it was a major transform for a boy who came from Althawra-Omdurman! I had no idea where to start or what to do; I waited until I met Mr. Makkawi, he gave me my money, and then helped me to open a bank account. I wanted to study as a first step, I visited Dr. Taha Alata, one of my teachers in the art school in Sudan, he was attending classes for graduate studies at Leicester University; I told him my wishes though I didn’t want to study in a university, I couldn’t afford it any way”.
Hamza told his teacher that he desires to be taught and practice with an artist who has an art studio; Mr. Taha didn’t know such an artist. So Hamza kept looking, while he worked in several jobs to support himself. In 1991 Hamza left London and went to south Wales. To a more convenient aria as he said; “I found a town in Wales, which companies cities civilization with a touch of flowers, nature and the countryside fragrance. It was a little town, very inspiring, the nature, the people with their lovely language. It was suitable for artists and poets. I decided to stay in south Wales; another station in my journey to the south”.
Hamza threw his firs exhibit in Britain, in 1992 in Wales; “I haven’t found a tutor by then yet, so I just stayed in my flat painting and drawing whatever comes to my imagination or describe how I feel, I made a lot of work, I booked a Norwegian church, which was transferred to an art center to be the gallery. It was the first cultural event in the new center, Alan Michael First Secretary of Wales come to the opening”. Hamza says that when he met Mr. Michel he asked him about what he need for his artistic carrier, Hamza told him that he’s looking for a teacher, and Mr. Allan happen to know the suitable person for that.
“When I first heard the artist name, I was amazed, I was familiar with his work but I had no idea he was still alive. Mr. Michel told me that he is a friend of Harry Holland; The artist who’s going to be my tutor. After Mr. Holland came to the gallery and saw my work, he asked me about what I wanted to learn, so I told him that I want to learn the traditional classic painting, for me that was the foun6dation I had to have to go forward, and to know what am going to do as an artist, until then I was relaying on my unpolished talent, what I learned in the arts school in Sudan and my personal diligence to study painting”.
Holland did not require Hamza to do anything but commit himself to the daily class on time, it was daily classes at 7 am with 3 hours duration; “we started with the basics, just direct simple drawing, then we worked on colors, techniques, themes, ideas and materials, even the matter of establishing an studio, working on it, production ext”. The training period took 4 years until 1996, then Hamza came to Sudan for a short visit, after going back to England, he established his own studio, moreover he started teaching in his studio. That was the start of his independence as an artist. Hamza and Holland remained friends, even after the classes stopped, they kept visiting each other, and Hamza was always consulting Holland about his work and progress.
The year1996 came with Hamza’s biggest success at that time. It was the literature year at Wales; he was the main artist in the festival. “One year after, when I came to Sudan, I participated in the opening of Sudanese Painters Union. I went back to Wales, 5 years later, in 2001 I was appointed as a instructor in Cardiff University in Wales. In 2005 I won the prize of The Tutor of The Year in Britain, and then I stopped the teaching carrier, because I had other prospects to discover”.
Mohamed Hamza went to South Africa in 2010, as a forth station on his journey to the south, which started by the train trip to south Egypt, the school trip to south Alangasna, followed by moving to south Wales. He says: “while I was in South Africa, I tried for the first time using the techniques and methods I used to teach in England. The program I was offering was named “Mohamed Hamza sanctuary for drawing and painting”, which I started in Wales, and after it succeeded there, I had the desire to take it to other places as well”.
“I have always been very interested in Africa, as part of my roots as an African man, I wanted to take my experience there. I am paying attention to the dark skin color tunes, so I thought of coming to its original home, which gave me the opportunity to use my thoughts and techniques in the best way, in South Africa. I spend a year and a half in this project, the work contained variety of skin color tunes, with a special highlight on the dark tunes. I met a nice family from Soweto, in the suburbs of Johannesburg; I was renting a part of their residence.
After that lovely experience, which we’re going to talk more about it in the upcoming parts of this interview, Hamza carried his experience to the golf aria, he contributed to the cultural symposium in Qatar, then the international human rights’ day in 2012. The next step for Mohamed Hamza was taking the same experience to AUE, he says adding: “I tutored in the two countries, and participated in the cultural events for almost 3 years”.
In 2013, Hamza received an invitation from South Sudan, to participate in Wau international festival, which was a new station on his journey to the south. Besides playing a part at the celebration, he helped at restructuring the art and culture commission in South Sudan. Hamza spend a whole year between Juba and Wau, he held workshops, visited the cultural centers and had other artistic projects there; “we used a special type of tree leafs, called ‘tick’, which produces some color when squeezed, that can be used for painting. We used that as a part of my attempt to use natural and available materials in arts, we wrote and drew with it, I did some portraits for local people and help them to learn the basics of drawing”, Hamza returned to England on 2015.
Now Mohamed Hamza is in another visit to Sudan, he stayed for a while this time, done a number of projects, produced a lot of art work and has great future plans. We were lucky to have this exclusive interview with the artist; this is only the first part of it. The second part will coincide with a lovely surprise he has told us about, it will document his artistic journey of 30 years “the journey of immigration to south” as he names it. 30 years of fighting for what he believes in, arts and a great passion for painting, a journey of a young boy from Omdurman, Sudan who didn’t find his way, because there where non; but he made his way to be international, despite all the hard effort and the hard work, he made it, and the best is yet to com.