KHARTOUM (Mohamed Najeeb Mohamed Ali – Sudanow) - A number of Sudanese creative writers and artists have managed to make it to internationalism
, with their writings translated into several foreign languages and their works of art put to display in galleries or run on cinemas and theatres.
Names of novelist Altayeb Salih, painter Ibrahim Alsalahi, film director Saeed Hamid, novelist Amir Taj Alsir, novelist Jamal Mahjoub, painter Rashid Diaab, poet Mohamed Muftah Alfaitoori, novelist Layla Abelela, actor Ibrahim Khan, writer and language scholar Prof. Abdallah Altayeb and novelist Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin are part of the list.
The list also contains painters Hussein Jama’an, Othman Wage’allah, Mohamed Ahmed Shibrain and Mohamed Hamza.
It could be ironical to say that the key to the success of some of these talents was their reflection of the Sudanese geographical and social environment in their works.
For instance novelist Altayeb Salih had made of the Sudanese place a fulcrum of his narrative around which plots are built, a matter that drew the world’s attention to his works. It is also ironical to say that Salih had spent most of his working career in London. But this long stay away from his home of origin could not separate him from his environment, his real being, his memory and his past. Salih had carried the Sudanese place with him wherever he went and in whatever he wrote or said. This is an indication that the road to internationalism passes through the local environment.
Equally, we find that the works of international painter Ibrahim Alsalahi are very close to the Sudanese environment and the intellectual and spiritual heritage of the land of his forefathers, where he lived and in whose culture he was imbued. In Salahi’s paintings we see a conspicuous presence of the indigenous haraz tree (acacia albida), an outstanding characteristic of the Sudanese natural environment. Salahi considers the haraz tree a symbol of strength, resilience and a resolve to keep living despite the surrounding harsh environment. Says Salahi: I took the haraz tree in my works as a symbol of the Sudanese human being, the Bedouin (nomad), the tough herdsman, the self-composed, the patient, the contented and who trusts to providence in whatever he does and wherever he goes.
Critic and University Lecturer Mustafa Alsawi tells Sudanow that many writers of this country had scored many and varied achievements. Their life outside the country, as a phenomenon, had tied them to their home country, the Nile and the land and the entire Sudanese geography. Globalization had furnished them with a lot of choices to make their voices heard to the peoples of the world. Asks Sawi: Did these talents leave the country for the sake of delving into international horizons or simply to enhance their living conditions in order to be able to keep up with their creative projects?
Sawi indicates the need for a systematic and knowledgeable reading of the biography of these creative figures. This is essential for emancipating the images of these writers from the picture drawn by the Orientalists for the East. Most of the Sudanese writers, though quite universal in what they had produced, had taken the Sudanese place as their initial, and last, starting point.
“The experiment of international novelist Altayeb Salih is a bright example to be followed by any writer who aspires to reach for a wider sector of readers in the world. That is: Start from the small forgotten environment of the Sudanese village and fly up towards the corridors of internationally recognized writers. This had lead Salih to be classified among the greatest 100 international writers who contributed to human civilization. Salih was indeed worthy of the Nobel Prize in literature, but there seem to be considerations for this Prize other than the creativity of the writer.
Sawi said Sudanese painter Ibrahim Alsalahi, with his employment of Sudan’s popular heritage and the percepts of his group of painters (The Khartoum School) about the world, his theorizations in painting, has emerged as a high figure that, aided by his artistic powers, had ably shot its way towards internationalism. He had managed to unleash his artistic powers, which were inspired by the interacting motivations of drawing from his home country’s heritage as a go-ahead, a beginning.
This also applies to painters Shibrain, Hussein Jama’an, Kamala Ibrahim and Mohamed Abdallah Etaibi.
In cinema we can see Director Saeed Hamid, Ibrahim Khan, Fayza Amasaib and Mohamed Alsunni Dafa’allah. In this respect one can note Wajdi Kamil with his short films and documentaries.
Adds Sawi: In poetry we cannot skip Mohamed Muftah Alfaitoori, Africa’s Lover, the devout sufi who is absorbed in the love of the Almighty. Faitoori has no equal, given his poetry, his plays and his movement from Egypt, to Beirut to Libya and to Morocco (all cultural and artistic magnets). Faitoori was able to master both African and Arab cultures, thus making of himself a distinct literary voice. Many of his poems were translated into international languages, namely English, French, Italian, German, Russian and others.
Included in this list is poetess Rawda Alhaj who shone at the Arab level, says Sawi.
Novelist Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin’s works were translated into English, French and other languages. Works of novelist Mansoor Alsuwaim were translated into English and French.
We have also to mention novelist Layla Abulela who wrote (in English) ‘The minaret’, ‘The Translator” , ‘Lyrics Alley’ and several others. Some of her works have been translated from English to other languages, including Arabic! Her novel ‘The Minaret’ tackles the relation of the self with the other in the post-colonial age and the move towards globalization.
We also have Amir Taj Alsir, author of Mahr Alsiyah (Dowry of Shouting), Tawatturat Alqibti (The Copt’s Convulsions), Juzu Mu’lim Min Hikaya (A Painful Part of a Tale) and others. Alsir’s novels were translated into several languages and he (Amir) was shortlisted twice for the Booker Award. He has already won the Katara Award. Some of his novels were nominated for the award for the best translated works of arts in the world.
Othman Wagee’allah has acquired international fame in calligraphy.
Literary critic, university professor Mohamed Almahdi Bushra questions the definition of internationalism. “Is there an agreed upon criterion for becoming international?”, he asks.
“For us we always believe that internationalism means reaching for the West and being accepted there. But here other criteria come in, because there are so many works which were not translated and their writers could not reach Europe for one reason or another. For instance the works of Egyptian novelist Najeeb Mahfooz were translated by some who cared to do so. The same was done by the American University. Mahfooz really deserves the Nobel Prize. Altayeb Salih, Ibrahim Alsalahi and the others deserve the appreciation they received in Europe, because by European standards, they are advanced. However we notice that Western attention accorded to Salih’s ‘Season of Migration to the North’ was far greater than that accorded to his ‘Bandar Shah’, while his works cannot be divided as such. And as critic Abdelrahman Alkhanji had put it, all of Salih’s works of fiction are great, cannot be divided and all of them occur in the same place (Wad Hamid) and all the characters are the same. When the Latin American novelist Marquez came into being, that reflected the Latin American situation in what is known as the magical realism, this art really deserved European and the First World’s appreciation. They imposed their writings and their creation and obliged Europe to change its criteria for literary criticism (in the novel for instance). Consequently, we can say that there are no fixed criteria through which we can make a judgment.”
“There are samples of writing which were not accepted in their home countries but were applauded in the West that looked at them from a political or Oriental perspective,” said Bushra.
Bushra has appreciated Altayeb Salih’s statement that reflecting the local environment is the road towards internationalism “because the creative writer is required to express his environment and his cultural identity without courting the European criteria, and this was what was done by Najeeb Mahfooz, Wole Soyinka, and Marquez, thus deserving the Nobel Prize. Alsalahi invokes the heritage and tries to tap the vast potential of this heritage and for that he assumed this international position. Altayeb Salih has asserted that there is no agreement on what can be called international. Consequently, if accepted or rejected by the West, that could not change the rating of the artist. The English writings of Layla Abulela had secured her a wide readership in the world, though the language she used had limited her readership in the Arab World. That is very ironical!.”
Bushra further asserts that the translation of poetry is most demanding, because of the many images, readings, surface and bottom and the language contained in the verse. That is why great Sudanese poets like Mohamed Almahdi Majthoub, Gaili Abdelrahman, Taj Alsir Alhassan and Abdallah Shabo, though well known in the Arab World, could not find their way towards internationalism, because their immortal works were not translated into foreign languages.