Stories of Sudanese Migrated Artists: Adlan Yousif, Galal Yousif, Bakri Moaz

By Mahasin Ismail

The art world of Sudan for the past three years since the December Revolution, had shown active movement of private galleries and art hubs to create a healthy, competitive environment for the growing fine art niche. Artists seemed optimistic about the future. 

However, the political turmoil in the country led to war in the heart of Khartoum on the 15th of April. 

In this article I dive deep into the stories of three exceptionally resilient artists who fled their country under the current armed conflicts, tied together by belonging and sentimental yearning for home. Those artists found refuge in Kenya, which became a major destination for a lot of displaced artists and cultural actors of Sudan.

Throughout history, Nairobi has been a favored place for Sudanese artists, playing a pivotal role in the artistic careers of renowned figures such as El Tayeb Dawelbeit, Yassir Ali, Salah Elmur, Ahmed Abu Shariaa and numerous others. As a curator, I feel responsibility to provide a comprehensive documentation of these artists’ extraordinary journeys to survival and how these events influenced their outputs, using a diversity of artistic expressions in various mediums to send their messages . Another important phenomenon to shed light on is the power of art to act as a commentary on social and political crises offering insights in such critical times .

All We Want is Life – Galal Yousif

 # Stop Killing People of Sudan:  Galal Yousif 

“The journey of escaping Sudan to safety wasn’t an easy decision to take. The road to survival was surrounded with danger at every turn: hunger, exhaustion, and sickness. I’ve had to navigate through a lot of difficult circumstances til I finally made it to Nairobi. Same as many people, at the beginning we were in a state of disbelief thinking that the fight would fall silent within just two days. However, days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months and the armed groups mopped out Khartoum to war-torn districts. The overwhelming sense of displacement and uncertainty is still inside, yet through art I find my way to heal.”

Galal Yousif, is a renowned artist with a distinguished figurative style. He is widely recognized for his expressive murals about revolution and his beautifully refined artworks inspired by indigenous Sudanese imagery. Exceptionally talented in transforming simple daily scenes to visually striking masterpieces,he captured Sudanese imagination.

Man With Heavy Heart – Galal Yousif

In his last mural “Man with a Heavy Heart“, he challenges prevailing narratives and exposes the raw, honest, painful emotions of loss and of contradictions inherent in armed conflict. He is not only highlighting the bitter experience of forced displacement but also invites viewers to relate, participate and grieve their beloved ones lost to war, transcending boundaries of place and time. It seems like the oppressive environment of Sudan has a profound impact on the artist resulting in thought-provoking and powerful artworks. 

Galal’s first collection after he arrived in Kenya, entitled “The Borders“, shows the amount of suffering Sudanese people have to go through just because of their passports. “It’s about the situation of the people of Sudan that are stuck in borders and I was one of them not long ago” Galal continued . “At the borders, some are still waiting to get visas and they stayed at the border for months. Some died on the border, some got sick on the way”. This collection questions the role of media and how efforts should be devoted to cover such stories.


# History Repeats Itself : Adlan Yousif

Adlan Yousif is another migrated contemporary Sudanese visual artist, sculptor, and musical composer. He is best known for his promising contributions to the field of sculpture, making installations and timeless sculptures using transformed scrap iron. He is also an awardee of the prestigious Paris residency for distinguished artists. Adlan found himself forced to flee his country urgently, under tough conditions of war, and sought safety and refuge in Nairobi.

Adlan Yousif working in his studio

Adlan was born and raised in Darfur, a region that suffered from armed conflicts for several decades. Thus, he gained an early understanding of the resilience of the human spirit and the long-lasting impact of war. With a strong belief in the transformative power of art, he embarked on a challenging journey to become an artist. I interviewed Adlan on his thoughts about making art in such an environment.

How did displacement and migration experience shape your artistic expression and subject matter?! 

I believe that viewers can clearly discern the themes of war that are scattered throughout my artworks. This is due to the fact that I experienced the harsh realities of war during my childhood, which forced my family to flee in search of basic necessities. At the tender age of 11, I was deeply affected by the horrors of war, and this has continued to inspire my iron sculptures, which are based on stories from war-torn regions and the suffering of the people who inhabit them. I view art as a form of resilience, solidarity, and a universal language that can communicate peace across all borders.

The ongoing conflict in Khartoum is yet another example of selfish leaders who are sabotaging the hopes and dreams of children by denying their basic rights for proper education and a healthy peaceful environment to grow. I pray wholeheartedly for the day when we will no longer have to flee our country in search of safety, and when my sculptures will narrate stories of peace instead of decades of violence.

Rusty Souls Collection – Adlan Yousif

Why did you choose Kenya in particular as your current destination?

Despite my sentimental yearning and nostalgia for my home in Khartoum, my decision to settle in Nairobi is driven by the prospect of greater opportunities. I am prepared to dive deeper into mastering my techniques and exploring more disruptive models of expression, and to learn from others artists as well. My art has always endowed me with the ability to amplify the voice of the voiceless, shed light on untold stories, and convey my message.

What is the item that you miss the most from your home country that you wish you had the opportunity to bring with you?

Regrettably, without further thinking, my personal art studio is the place that I miss the most. I often ponder and question myself about the fate of the invaluable legacy that I left behind in that space. It was my safe zone and held a special place in my heart, where I stored over ten different musical instruments, some of which I had learned to play on, and hundreds of unfinished artistic projects. If only I could have brought at least one of my instruments with me, as I feel without them like someone muted my voice and tightly roped my soul.


# Artistic Rebirth in Kenya : Bakri Moaz 

” Painting is a resilient practice; if you look through the history of painting it doesn’t change so much and we always see it in the present. It is still now” – GüntherFörg

Bakri Moaz is a promising young, emerging artist, relentlessly seeking visual vocabulary closely tied to Sudanese culture as he approaches the canvas. His artwork has been showcased in a multitude of galleries both domestically and internationally, and has been featured by various press platforms.

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A walk into Bakri’s artworks before war, shows colors that harmonize magnificently to express movement and energy. He employs vibrant, bright background colors which emerge from behind, before exposing exquisitely alluring figures. He then activates the surface of the painting with frequent blending of colors and thick brushstrokes until he work unifies.

Sketches – Bakri Moaz

Currently, Bakri’s sketches address the themes of loss and grief resulting from bitter displacement. The artist employs black ink on paper to document fleeting and painful emotions. His sketches depict military tanks, scattered bullets, and women fleeing cities while carrying suitcases, with no hope of returning in the near future. These elements capture the mind of the artist preoccupied  with the state of his former residence, which had been caught in gunfire. He illustrates how Innocent people have nothing to do with this: “It’s not our war. It has been over a 100 days and we keep losing friends, relatives and houses. We all get hurt“, said Bakri. 

Can you describe the challenges you faced in continuing your artistic practice amidst war and when fleeing your home country?

I shared a painting studio with two other artists in the heart of Khartoum. Like many artists, our studio was a second home to us, and during the holy month of Ramadan, we spent most of our time there working on various artistic projects. However, on that particular Friday night before the outbreak of war, I felt an inexplicable sense of discomfort and informed my colleagues that I needed to return to my house. I remember taking only my laptop, a sketchbook, and two black pens, which later became my only means of artistic expression. The following morning, I learned of the devastating news on TV and realized that my friends were likely caught in the midst of the conflict zone, unable to leave for the next four days.

Sudden Departure – Bakri Moaz

Can you tell us about your journey to safety and how you flee your home country? Why did you choose Kenya in particular 

My journey to Kenya was a challenging path fraught with uncertainty and a persistent cycle of doubts. Due to insufficient personal funds, I had to leave my family behind and embark on this journey with the company of my fellow artist, Yassir. At times, I had to rise early in the morning before the children of the household where we were hosted, in order to sketch my drawings. One aspect that I deeply missed about Khartoum is the typical Sudanese ambiance of the streets. I have always been flattered by the view of the Nile and the tea makers situated along its banks.

I selected Kenya as my destination because I had previously visited in January and held a group exhibition with my two studio mates. This exhibition helped to stimulate the sale of our paintings in Kenya, which was a crucial market for us as artists. Therefore, it was the first place that came to mind as a safe environment where I could continue to practice my craft.

The story of Sudanese artists who have fled the ongoing war is one of resilience, creativity, and the unyielding human spirit. Despite the upheaval and displacement caused by the conflict, these artists have managed to carry the essence of Sudan’s rich cultural heritage with them, finding ways to express their narratives and share their experiences in new lands. Through their art, they bridge the gap between their past and present, offering a lens into the profound impact of the war while showcasing their undying hope and commitment to peace. Their journeys underscore the transformative power of art as a vehicle for healing, dialogue, and connection in the face of adversity. As they continue to create and inspire from afar, these Sudanese artists remind us of the vital role of cultural expression in preserving identity and fostering understanding across boundaries.