Kamala Ibrahim Ishag Receives 2019 Prince Claus Principal Laureate, Plus First Solo Exhibition in the Netherlands

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag formally receives 2019 Prince Claus Principal Laureate in the Netherlands as she presents the exhibition “Women in Crystal Cubes”.  

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag officially receiving the Principal Award at the 2019 Prince Claus Awards Ceremony. Photo credit: Prince Claus Fund / Frank van Beek
Kamala Ibrahim Ishag receiving the Principal Award at the 2019 Prince Claus Awards Ceremony. Photo credit: Prince Claus Fund / Frank van Beek

80-year-old Sudanese modernist artist, Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, in a formal ceremony at the Royal Palace Amsterdam, received the Principal Laureate of the 2019 Prince Claus Awards on December 4, 2019. Presented by HRH Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands, the laureate recognises Ishag’s role as an intellectual catalyst and inspirational force among younger generations of Sudanese artists. 

The ceremony also recognised and presented laureates to seven others for outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development. They are Mariam Kamara, an architect from Niger, Ambulante, the documentary film organisation from Mexico, Bill Kouélany, visual artist and writer from Congo-Brazzaville, Djamila Ribeiro, a philosopher from Brazil, Anocha Suwichakornpong, filmmaker from Thailand and Mónica Ojeda Franco, writer from Ecuador who won the Next Generation Prince Claus Laureate.  

Ishag has concentrated on the intangible and spiritual aspects of women’s experience. She conducted field research and produced paintings and academic papers about Zar, a traditional Sudanese women’s spiritual ceremony that entails spirit possession and trance-like performance. 

In addition to the laureate, Ishag is presenting her first solo exhibition in the Netherlands titled “Women in Crystal Cubes”. Co-curated by Cornell University scholar, Professor Salah M. Hassan and Sharjah Art Foundation director and president, Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, “Women in Crystal Cubes” is a selection of works from Ishag’s practice spanning over 50 years including her earliest paintings from when she graduated college.

Commenting on her practice, Hassan said “Kamala’s studies at the Royal College were formative to her career. Her early interest in the work of the English painter and writer William Blake, in particular his exploration of spirituality and incarnation through the sublime power of poetry resonated with her own contemplation of spirit possession practices by Sudanese women known as Zar. The unlikely convergence would lead to the development of central themes and styles in her work that run through her oeuvre. Such influences can be seen in the distorted faces and figures of women in her paintings, which are mostly rendered in dark monochromic tones of brown…”

Born 1939 in Omdurman, Sudan, Ishag was one of the pioneer women to graduate from the College of Fine Arts in Khartoum in 1963. She went on to complete postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Fine Art in London from 1964 to 1966. While still a student in the early 1960s, she was associated with the Khartoum School, an art movement that forged a modern identity for the newly independent nation by drawing on both its Arab and African traditions, but soon broke away from the group due to its emphasis on tradition and its male-dominant outlook. Ishag, along with some of her students, would later establish a conceptual art group, ‘Crystalist Group’, that challenged traditional art practices in Sudan. The group issued the Crystalists Manifesto, which characterised the world as infinite and unbounded, like the transparencies and reflections of a multi-faceted crystal. In her own work, Ishag has concentrated on the intangible and spiritual aspects of women’s experience. She conducted field research and produced paintings and academic papers about Zar, a traditional Sudanese women’s spiritual ceremony that entails spirit possession and trance-like performance. 

Regarded as one of the most influential and pioneering modernist artist in Sudan, it was decided by the 2019 Prince Claus Awards Committee that Ishag be honoured for her original, vibrant and haunting artworks, her revolutionary intellectual challenge to the established artistic paradigm, her leading, support and empowerment of women, her immense contribution to Sudanese artistic education, and ongoing dedication to innovative aesthetic thought despite the repressive context and succession of crises in Sudan from the 1960s onward.

“Women in Crystal Cubes” was first exhibited at the Sharjah Art Foundation in 2016. It is on view in the Netherlands until May 1, 2020. 

See works from the exhibition below.

 Exhibition view | Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: Women in Crystal Cubes, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam 2019. Photo © Maarten van Haaff
Exhibition view | Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: Women in Crystal Cubes, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam 2019. Photo © Maarten van Haaff

 Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Women in Crystal Cubes, 2015, 115 x 155 cm, Oil on canvas. (From Samia Omar Osman Collection) | Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: Women in Crystal Cubes, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam 2019. Photo © Maarten van Haaff
Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Women in Crystal Cubes, 2015, 115 x 155 cm, Oil on canvas. (From Samia Omar Osman Collection) | Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: Women in Crystal Cubes, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam 2019. Photo © Maarten van Haaff

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Quran - Prayer, 1981, 38 x 38 cm, Mixed media on paper. (Courtesy of the artist) | Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: Women in Crystal Cubes, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam 2019. Photo © Maarten van Haaff
Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Quran – Prayer, 1981, 38 x 38 cm, Mixed media on paper. (Courtesy of the artist) | Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: Women in Crystal Cubes, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam 2019. Photo © Maarten van Haaff

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Portraits, 1973, 58.5 x 75 cm, Oil on board. (Private Collection) | Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: Women in Crystal Cubes, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam 2019. Photo © Maarten van Haaff
Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, Portraits, 1973, 58.5 x 75 cm, Oil on board. (Private Collection) | Kamala Ibrahim Ishag: Women in Crystal Cubes, Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam 2019. Photo © Maarten van Haaff

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