GALLERIES: A second chance to lift the lid on a well-kept secret…

Monday May 10 2021
"Bubbles and shells studies" by Gor Sudan.

"Bubbles and shells studies" by Gor Sudan. PHOTO | COURTESY | RED HILL ART GALLERY


Gor Soudan is another of those artists who shun publicity, avoid interviews and work quietly away in their studios achieving what they came into this world to do — create art.

Little can be heard of him for months if not years before he suddenly pops back into our consciousness with sometimes complex, occasionally deceptively simple, paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures that take our breath away.

Forever foraging among political and social issues, his reputation was built by a series of collages and paintings (often on newspaper) of threatening Indian crows which he used to symbolise messengers from another culture.

His arrival as a heavy hitter was triggered by what is probably the most original take on the Crucifixion for at least 150 years, ever since the Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt painted The Shadow of the Cross in the early 1870s.

In Holman Hunt’s luminous work, the fate of Jesus working in his father’s carpentry shop is foretold as he stretches his arms after sawing wood, throwing a cruciform shadow onto a wall against racks of woodworking tools that appear to form the Cross.

In Soudan’s sculpture a wire torso is suspended a few metres in front of an open-centred cross made from railway sleepers and hung on the wall. A spotlight projects a shadow of the torso precisely onto the gaps within the cross, completing the Crucifixion. The piece is called Resurrection and was shown at the private gallery of Olutosin Rotimi, a Nigerian art lover with a killer eye who enlivened the Kenyan art scene some years ago.


In both Hunt’s and Soudan’s pieces Christ casts the shadow yet for me Soudan’s is by far the more powerful, stripped of Pre-Raphaelite prettiness and getting straight to the point.

Holman Hunt’s painting literally foreshadows Christ’s death; Gor Soudan’s sculpture shows the brutal fact of it.

His torso was fashioned from what Soudan calls ‘protest wire’; that is blackened wire recovered from tyres burnt during the riots that followed the 2007 Kenyan General Election.

Soudan used the wire to create a number of torsos and then, famously, his ‘Bubbles’ enclosed wire constructions that look for all the world like weaver bird nests.

As eggs — or nests — superficially they represent rebirth, symbolic perhaps of the beginnings of the country’s regeneration following the violence that marked the 2007 election result.

On a more personal level however these wire nests and torsos plus a suite of ink and charcoal drawings under the collective title Bubbles and Shells are also the artist’s response to the people, enclosed spaces and domes he saw during a trip he made from Nairobi to Freetown in Sierra Leone, and on to Tokyo, Japan.

The fruits of this tour were shown by his tireless champions Hellmuth and Erica Rossler-Musch at their Red Hill Art Gallery to the west of Nairobi in 2014-15, in an exhibition called Two Worlds Apart.

They always have his work in stock and now, some six years later, they have arranged a tight little reprise of that same exhibition, called simply Gor Soudan/A Retrospective.

On show are some 15 paintings and ink and charcoal drawings — no sculpture, alas — that dazzle and shock.

The dazzle comes from the intensity of the colours — orange and a shrieking green, applied thickly for maximum projection — and the fluency of the artist’s line.

The shock stems from Soudan’s unexpected but superbly resolved treatment of the human figure… in one case two of them perched together on the cusp of what might be taken for the globe, echoing the proportions of the classical image of Atlas supporting the world, but does in fact arise from a view of bathers on the curve of the Freetown shoreline.

Soudan is an elusive artist and his sculptures, prints, drawings and installations with their subtle cross references and metaphors can be elusive too.

Although their beauty and high finish immediately leap to the eye and are a delight in themselves you have to work to get the point and add another level of pleasure to a viewing.

Thus we have a precise reversal of, say, a Cezanne, which you can enjoy as a mountain view or woodland scene yet also take pleasure in the succulent quality of the paint and the plush arrogance of the brushstrokes.

With Soudan whose small output and introspective meanderings put him in danger of being a well-kept secret, those who know, know.

And those who do not know, until seeing what he can do, soon want to know a whole lot more.