By PAUL LASTER November 7, 2023
Fascinated by the landscape of Khartoum, which sits at the confluence of the White Nile—flowing north from Lake Victoria—and the Blue Nile, flowing west from Lake Tana in Ethiopia, Miska Mohmmed turned her fascination into the subject of her art. Drawing and painting the landscape of her hometown since childhood, the Sudanese artist, whose work is currently on view in her solo show, "Highlands of Sudan," at OOA GALLERY in Barcelona through December 3, 2023, went on to study art at Khartoum’s College of Fine Art, where she received a BFA in Painting in 2016, but her journey as a painter—while rooted in the past—flowered after she left school.
Born in Omdurman, the second most populated city in the state of Khartoum, in 1995 and initially raised there, she experienced her first change of scenery when her family moved to Saudi Arabia when she was just three years old. In 2002 she went back to Khartoum for school but continued to split her time between the city on the Nile and Riyadh, the bustling Saudi capital. Shifting back and forth between a fertile realm and an arid domain, Mohmmed’s landscapes changed from being real to imaginary. Working from memory, she would invent what she wanted to see.
After graduating college, her work progressed from realism to abstraction to improvisation in a short amount of time. Sketching and painting en plein air almost daily, she began to turn nature into pure color and form—much like one of her favorite artists, Vincent Van Gogh, had done at the start of Modern Art. One can chart the 28-year-old painter’s progress by looking at her Instagram page, which she began on December 2, 2015. From pencil drawings and watercolors of people to still lives, cityscapes and abstract landscapes, her art evolved in leaps and bounds in less than a year.
As the talented young artist noted on Instagram on January 8th of this year, “Practice makes progress,” but it was her daring experimentation that caused her to get where she is with her art today. In 2016 she began tagging her works #freecomposition, as she started to interpret what she saw as lines, shapes and colors. She began to capture the atmosphere rather than the details, and her landscapes started to become as fluid as the river flowing through them. Her biggest breakthrough came in a mixed-media scene she labeled #daily_sketches, #landscape_painting on May 28, 2019.
A colorful abstraction composed through a series of horizontal brushstrokes and freely drawn lines, this landscape is notable for the circular forms that move our eyes across the picture plane. Inspired by swirls on the Nile, these forms soon became a signature part of her improvisational landscapes, which became even more experimental as Mohmmed added quickly rendered lines and dots to her lively way of creating an environmental scene—whether real or imagined. Dubbing these panoramic views as “Mindscapes,” she made a series of short films to share her personal style of working with her online audience.
“I had the feeling that if I painted the scene as it is there was nothing new,” she shared in a recent Whatsapp visit to her studio in Nairobi, where she has lived and worked for the past few years. “I wanted to put myself in the landscape, more than just painting reality.” As a result, Mohmmed’s landscapes convey the impression of a world in constant motion. It’s like the artist—and the viewer—is at the center of the action as everything around her—or us—is moving. The scene is fluid, and the way this spirited artist composes it is equally as fluent.
Whether working in a sketchbook or painting a large canvas, it’s a process of action and reaction—a brushstroke leads to a line, and a line leads to more brushwork. Having spent her life lovingly observing a variety of landscapes in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Kenya, as well as through past travels to North Africa, Mohmmed has them fixed in her memory—yet each one is different, depending on the terrain, the season, the weather and the time of day.
Reducing mountains and trees, buildings and lights, rivers and seas to color and form, she creates harmonious pictures that represent a sense of a scene, a feeling of a place. The landscape keeps changing and the artist is trying to capture all of these changes. Aptly described as “a symphony of colors that dance across the canvas,” her landscapes are painted with intuitive emotion. Making memory maps, and inventing as she goes along, Mohmmed creates a pliable world—one that pulsates with exciting possibilities. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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