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Identity Dilemma: Interview with Hassan Musa

Hassan -Musa

Dr Hassan Musa is not only a renowned artist but he is also a brilliant critic and thinker whose works are usually received with great concern locally and internationally. In addition, he is a truculent defender of his doctrines and his mental convictions. His debates and disputes provide the cultural scene with a great deal of vitality and liveliness. We have interviewed him to discuss a group of significant issues.

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* You keep repeating that identity is based on free choice. The fact is that we are born conditioned by an identity; so it is difficult to accept that it is based on free choice.
– The issue is more complicated than this brief prescription. The question of identity is accompanied by a sum of historical circumstances. When we come to investigate the question of identity we have to bear in mind the circumstances leading to foster it. The question of the identity in Sudan has been fostered while the middle class has been looking for a definition for its historical role on Sudan as it has inherited power post-independence.

*Do you mean that the moment of launching Sudanization of governmental administration led to the formation of the philosophical questions in the collective awareness such as “What does Sudan mean?” and “What does the adjective Sudanese mean?”
– This question was influenced by the civil war accompanying independence. It also was influenced by the circumstances directing the search of social and economic development based on Sudanese roots. After October revolution in 1964 discussions about unity, development and the role of culture in social development appeared. Many Sudanese writers, poets, painters and musician contributed to these discussions. They rationalized their roles to cope with Sudanese reality. The discussions resulted in attempts devoted to define Sudanese culture. These attempts were made by Sudanese writers, poets, painters and musicians such as Mohammad Al-Maki Ibrahim in poetry, Joma’a Jaber in Music and Makki Seed Ahmad in Music, AL-Niesayri and Yeousef Aidabi in theatre and Al-Salahi and Shibrain in fine arts. These discussions had formed and introduced the language and terms of discussions based on identity. Sudanese politicians began to talk about identity later than intellectuals but the make use of the terminologies and conceptual framework coined by writers and artists so it is rather difficult to find a politician who doesn’t have an idea about Abdu Al-Hay’s poem, “The Return to Sinnar”.
When I say that identity is a choice I mean that utility plays a crucial role to make some one choose his\her identity. No one chooses identity if it doesn’t provide him with advantages.
The two choices of utility and identity are controlled by force. A person is born bound to specific materialistic and symbolic obligations. These obligations drive him\her toward particular direction. Taking these obligations into consideration, we discover that any individual spends most of his life negotiating and balancing the definition of identity between force and free choice.
*Let’s go back to fine arts. We find out that fine arts criticism has borrowed its terminologies from written letters. Many artistic currents and schools in Sudan such as Khartoum School, the One and Crystallization supposed that a painting expresses an objective equivalence lying outside its space. What is your opinion?
– As a painting-maker I think a painting always gets rid of literature and speech. The artistic influence of a painting doesn’t depend on tools such as speech so any person can stand in front of a painting and admires it as well as he\she admires sunset or a rose. In literature a writer doesn’t express the visional theme; he\she tries to framework this visional theme to be seen through his\her eyes. Any artistic work is bound to the receptor-producer’s relation.
*We can say that this relation between the producer and the receptor assists to crystallize the artistic criticism. How can we assess such a process which is distributed between objectivity and subjectivity?
–  It is impossible to reach to a criterion assessing what is objective and what is subjective. The process is a struggle carried out by the two parties. It is an opened project where the creator may be advanced by the receptor or the latter may be advanced by the first in contrast. There is no final prescription to assess such a matter.
*”Reading sociology” is a modern method that can help us to found a new objectivity of criticism.
–   I have just answered the question and it is no use repeating the same answer.
*George Lucas has said that the ascending of the novel has been a normal result of the ascending of the middle class which is responsible the modernizing of creation in society. What is the role of the middle class in Sudan? Has its role come to its end when it has been deconstructed and vanished?
– The middle class is the generator of modernity but it is a sort of modernity linked to capital. Moreover, it is a partial modernity. It doesn’t reach popular levels in rural areas and cities. Popular sectors in rural areas and cities are excluded from education and consequently from culture. The middle class is always trying to produce modernity achieving its utilities and coping with its concerns. The urban sector in Sudan acquired cultural values coping with the values of modernity in poetry, fine arts and music. These values have no relation with the traditional cultural values inherited by popular sectors in rural areas and cities. Most people in these areas are excluded from the culture of modernity.
The opportunity to join modernity for these people is in education. We have to remember that the modernity of capital is always subdued to changes, convulsions and class separation due to its internal contradictions. The whole issue is located between constancy and change. The concept of the middle class itself is bound to changes taking place in the society. There is no final definition for the middle class due to continuous changes influencing it.
   *You have reread Arab calligraphers’ artistic work recently. It is noticed that you have employed calligraphy differently where the calligraphy is a substance contribute to the whole design of a painting. What is your comment?
–   Arab calligraphers who are different from European calligrapher have produced an aesthetic project aiming to achieve political benefits linked to official propaganda. Most of their work used Arabic calligraphy as a political value based on the national Arabic movement in the world. Bright examples of this exploitation can be found in Iraq and Syria in the 1960s and 1970s. My research upon calligraphy is not bound to Arabic calligraphy and even, when I use Arabic calligraphy motives my work is read on the visional level. It is counterfeiter Arabic calligraphy on the level of the text but it is factual Arabic calligraphy on the visional level. As a visional outcome, calligraphy is one of the artist’s tools.
(Published On Al-Ria Ala’am, 6.1.2010)

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*Translated by Gamal Ghallap