Friday, January 1, 2010

The Party of Art: When the People Entered the Gallery


Article by Hassan M. Musa
This account of the art exhibition literature in the Sudan reflects the complexity of modern political action there. The art exhibition was introduced by the colonial state as an instrument of propaganda. Post-independence authorities continued in a similar direction. Modern political organizations such as the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) used art exhibitions to initiate ordinary people to modern political action. During the relative political stability of Gaafar Nimeiri's regime (1969–85), the state founded official cultural institutions that consolidated the exhibition as an exceptional space of representation. Present at the heart of the exhibition apparatus, artists were equally attentive to the methodology of the exhibition as an instrument for political dissidence. After the SCP's experience, traditional political forces, such as the Umma Party, used the art exhibition to reflect a modernized, attractive image of their political project. Politically oriented exhibition literature affects both artistic and political activities: more and more politically aware artists take political positions that influence their art practice, while important traditional political leaders (such as Sadiq al-Mahdi) deploy educational efforts to make art practice acceptable among traditional Muslims. The politicization of artists and the artistic "initiation" of political leaders transformed the art exhibition practice into a political action. In a society functioning without the real institution of patronage, this situation opens optimistic horizons before the art practice and, perhaps, before political practice.


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