Khalid Kodi is a Sudanese/American visual artist and professor of African Arts at Boston College in Massachusetts and at Brown University in Providence. Kodi’s work has recently been focused on the use of art as a weapon of peace-building and helping local communities, and to achieve peaceful coexistence in South Sudan and some parts of Sudan. He also excelled in the use of art to resist injustice on minorities, by aiding in their acquirement of tools that enable them to express themselves.In order to achieve the desired goal of art and make art influential in the public domain, Kodi traveled to Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, and worked in these countries with displaced people, refugees, schools, amateur artists, professionals and students. Workshops hosted in these countries gained acceptance, enthusiasm and a large turnuot, because art of all kinds is inherently build and recognized from the communities in these areas.

The professor comes to South Sudan and Uganda in this year with another project, bigger than what he did last year, because it follows a specific approach which will make it move forward slowly. Andariya spoke with Professor Khalid Kodi about the new project and here is what he revealed.

Andariya: Professor, allow us to go back a little bit; when and where did it all start for you and did you find encouragement from others?

Kodi: First, thank you Andariya for your interest in visual arts and for giving me this opportunity to connect with your readers. Perhaps my beginning looked like that of most people from my time; we are human beings born with the desire to discover and create, and the environment can either help develop these desires or demolish them. Like most artists, I was lucky and encouraged from an early age and found motivation and support from my family and school.

Many of my family members are artists and love arts of various kinds. My great grandfather Alsol Kodi was a great musician, but unfortunately he did not find the recognition he deserved. He is one of the first to read and write musical notes in Sudan. He was Commander of the Police Musical Band in the Blue Nile area which is now a part of Aljazeera state. He inspired generations of great musicians like AlMansouri, Mohammed Alamin, Obu Araki Bakhit, Al Fateh Hussein and many others.

Some of my aunts and uncles could sing, some practiced the art of calligraphy, and some of them would add artistic touches to fabrics. Others were magical in interior designing or even gardening; and all were interested in arts in one form or another.

I was also motivated by my teachers at various stages of education, I don’t have the chance to mention them all here, but some names stand out like AlFatih and Yacob Sheikh Hadi and Abo Gorah. I’d also like to mention the great professor Bashir Zembh and the late Faird Khalifa and my professors at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Sudan and then at the Massachusetts College where I continued my Masters of Arts.

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Image Credit: Hassan Yasin 

In general, I think I was lucky and I found encouragement and support from my family and this support continued through different stages of my studies and my work as an artist and arts professor. 

Andariya: Tell us about your most famous workKodi: Over the years, I did a lot of work that holds a special place in my heart; one of them is “The Burnt Nuba Village,” which is an environmental work I did in a colony of artists in New York State. The project took three weeks, in an area as big as two football fields.

This work dealt with a number of concepts including cultural and philosophical, technical and administrative. The cultural aspect was based on the culture of cultivating crops in soil enriched by fire. The philosophical aspect discussed the issues of time and the natural changes over time. The technical aspect depended on the effective implementation of mechanisms and using certain tools to ensure success. The administrative part handled the various stages of making the art piece; from the planning stage to certifications and assurances from several departments up to implementing safety procedures and finally documentation through the use of a private jet.

The project depicted a village in the Nuba Mountains with all its people, houses, trees, birds and beasts. I burned these forms on the grass fields to create a big mound of ash. Such an act has a deep moral meaning in the Nuba culture. Then the area that was burned was enriched and the rest remained as it is. By time the burned area transformed into a positive space and those that did not burn to negative ones. Where fire once burned the land, plants grew greener and stronger – which is the fire enriched crops cultivation notion. If the reality today is not filled with wars and destruction, we could have reminded our people that from ashes greener and stronger life can grow, that’s the essence of the land.

Another project I did back in 2014 was in Kauda in the Nuba Mountains. It was a workshop with a number of people of different ages, everyone participated using the available materials to express their identity, life and position in the world. The work of participants addressed different topics like the life cycle, resistance and reality of marginalization and injustice. Over the years, many US and European institutions acquired some of the pieces that I hold very dear to me, but now they became available to the public.

Andariya: Over the last three years, you traveled to East Africa and worked on artistic projects in different countries in the region. Tell us more about these trips and the projects you’ve undertaken in the region.

Kodi: Years ago I started purposefully relocating art from studios and placing it within different communities. For more than ten years, my work focused on specific projects designed for the sites that were destined to host them, or what are called “Site Specific Installations”.

There are also art workshops that have wider participation that is not limited only to artists; and in these kinds of workshops the artist and the public become one, there is no separation between the receiver and the giver of art. The work I carried out in East Africa has adopted this vision and I will continue to utilize it in future works. 

Andariya: Tell us about your most famous work

Kodi: Over the years, I did a lot of work that holds a special place in my heart; one of them is “The Burnt Nuba Village,” which is an environmental work I did in a colony of artists in New York State. The project took three weeks, in an area as big as two football fields. 

This work dealt with a number of concepts including cultural and philosophical, technical and administrative. The cultural aspect was based on the culture of cultivating crops in soil enriched by fire. The philosophical aspect discussed the issues of time and the natural changes over time. The technical aspect depended on the effective implementation of mechanisms and using certain tools to ensure success. The administrative part handled the various stages of making the art piece; from the planning stage to certifications and assurances from several departments up to implementing safety procedures and finally documentation through the use of a private jet.

The project depicted a village in the Nuba Mountains with all its people, houses, trees, birds and beasts. I burned these forms on the grass fields to create a big mound of ash. Such an act has a deep moral meaning in the Nuba culture. Then the area that was burned was enriched and the rest remained as it is. By time the burned area transformed into a positive space and those that did not burn to negative ones. Where fire once burned the land, plants grew greener and stronger – which is the fire enriched crops cultivation notion. If the reality today is not filled with wars and destruction, we could have reminded our people that from ashes greener and stronger life can grow, that’s the essence of the land.

Another project I did back in 2014 was in Kauda in the Nuba Mountains. It was a workshop with a number of people of different ages, everyone participated using the available materials to express their identity, life and position in the world. The work of participants addressed different topics like the life cycle, resistance and reality of marginalization and injustice. Over the years, many US and European institutions acquired some of the pieces that I hold very dear to me, but now they became available to the public.

Andariya: Over the last three years, you traveled to East Africa and worked on artistic projects in different countries in the region. Tell us more about these trips and the projects you’ve undertaken in the region.

Kodi: Years ago I started purposefully relocating art from studios and placing it within different communities. For more than ten years, my work focused on specific projects designed for the sites that were destined to host them, or what are called “Site Specific Installations”.

There are also art workshops that have wider participation that is not limited only to artists; and in these kinds of workshops the artist and the public become one, there is no separation between the receiver and the giver of art. The work I carried out in East Africa has adopted this vision and I will continue to utilize it in future works. 

Andariya: Did you experience any difficulties in the implementation of these workshops?Kodi: There are always difficulties; objective and non-objective ones. Lot of officials don’t pay attention to artistic or spiritual projects or ones that aim to enhance the citizens’ mental health. A lot of politicians and administrators in Africa believe that people’s issues are limited to what is materialistic and direct only. Often you hear that culture and arts, and even education, are not our priorities at this time! Thus artistic projects face disruption due to bureaucratic reasons.

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Image Credit: Hassan Yasin 

Andariya: What are your projects for your 2016 trip to East Africa?

Kodi: This year I have two projects. The first is in South Sudan and boasts new and advanced techniques and ideas where citizens from various communities and backgrounds will be involved. The project is designed to be a demonstration of the fine arts for participants from all over South Sudan, intending to contribute and support the general and overwhelming desire for peace and stability.

Workshops will address issues like memory, tolerance, acceptance and recognition of the other by designing and implementing flags that reflect these values, we will raise the flags in various locations, including civil and government locations.

The second project is a follow-up workshop to the one I set up in Kampala last year. Participants will be from Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Somalia and Congo. 

Andariya: How is the flags and posters project coming along and why have you chosen this to be this year’s theme?Kodi: For years, I have been developing my ability to use visual arts as a tool for self-expression, which contributes to spiritual, emotional, and physical therapy. The programs I design carry messages of creativity with a dose of mental healing, which falls into a field named “art therapy.” This continuous creative process gives participants opportunities for deep thinking in order to resolve issues individually or collectively. Additionally, the completion of any work or participation in any group activity develops and manages the behavior of the participants and improves their self esteem, which is important.

As I mentioned earlier, most of the projects that I design do not need talent or experience, all you need is enough desire to engage in the production process which is innovative in the first place. Complicated messages through the visual language of art help in guiding participants and healing any wounds and recovering from painful experiences.

Flags (or sheets) is one of the ambitious projects that I am taking forward in South Sudan this year in partnership with Hope Society and others. The project aims to complete the design and making of flags with participates from many demographic groups. The project was designed carefully to take into account the qualitative diversity, different ethnicities, religions and age groups.

The groups that will be involved in the compilation of each flags will consist of members that are not similar in their history, experiences, ethnicities and affiliations. By solving visual and technical problems posed by the completion of any work of art, like choosing colors or shapes arranged in space, the participants are allowed to express their feelings and internal conflicts in a safe space.

Andariya: Did you find enough support for the implementation of these projects?

Kodi: Yes, through educational institutions. I usually find adequate support from donors outside of the academic institutions where I work; they cover some of the costs of the projects and help in the management of the entire project. The weight of educational institutions gives the distinguished opportunity for the provision of funding, and provides a good position for me to focus on the completion of the project, whereas experienced administrators in the educational institutions ensure the sustainability and management of the project. 

Andariya: What is the goal of this project and how long will it take?Kodi: The time limit for projects that I lead is often very variable, and depends on the nature of the project and the time and place. Overall, the average time for my workshops for beginners or experienced artists ranges from two weeks to six weeks. However, sometimes the project cycle can take up to an entire year. The project this year is in partnership with Hope Society in South Sudan and is expected to continue for an entire year. We did the workshops preparations and training in the summer (the Fall in Sudan and South Sudan) in Juba. A selected few traveled to Kampala to receive training in partnership with a number of senior education institutions. Upon return to South Sudan these trainers are now leading workshops that will continue throughout until next summer in different cities and towns in South Sudan.

This project – in addition to building the capacity of visual artists in South Sudan – aims to bring art to the public, so we can produce art that is for the common person to participate in, so he can be affected by it and affect it simultaneously.

Andariya: Have you done anything else while you were in the region this year?

Kodi: One of my interests is also producing projects for the environment, or what is called “Environmental Installations”. This type of art relies on the natural environment for drawing out the concepts, techniques and materials, and is widely practiced in Africa and South Sudan. We sought to add to it modern techniques and concepts. We hope to accomplish many great programs in the future depending on what nature will provide to us.

This post is also available in: Arabic


Deng Aling

Deng is a blogger, fiction writer and journalist and the Founder and Director of Hope Literary Society. He hopes his writings improve reality to the better; he sees literature as the deepest socio-political and cultural statement. Deng thinks writing has evolved to be a form of education, culture, entertainment and emotional intelligence. He is a big art fan and can be reached through his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/daviddeng.aling