- Artist: Ahmed Umar
- Creation date: 2014
- Object type: Sculpture
“It is a depiction of the story of my dream”, says Ahmed Umar about his sculpture Thawr, Thawra ثور, ثورة (Ox, Revolution). “The dream of living freely in a democratic and peaceful country where all people have equal value. Sudan, my home country, has been unlucky with politicians and governing powers for the past 60 years. One coup after another, and the country has been ruled by the military for the past 30 years. When I was born, I opened my eyes to a world ruled by a dictator.” (The artist in a conversation with Curator Education Helga Gravermoen, 12.2020)
The symbolism of the ox
The sculpture's title has its origins in Arabic, where thawr means ox, an animal that Umar often saw, and admired, in childhood. He had a special bond with animals. In the region where he comes from, in the centre of Sudan, cows are a symbol of wealth, pride and strength. The word ox can refer to how the Sudanese people have fought peacefully against the dictators for decades without giving up or losing heart. In the second half of the title, an a is added at the end of the word: thawra. The suffix changes the word from masculine to feminine form, and the meaning changes to “revolution”. This is simply a revolutionary, proud and strong Sudanese ox!
In 2012–13, opposition increased to dictator Umar al-Bashir and his regime in Sudan. Extreme violence was used against peaceful protesters. It cost over 300 people their lives to say: “Enough is enough! We want to be free!”
At the end of 2018, the Sudanese people took to the streets again in a national uprising, and after a few months, the protesters took control of a country that had been ruled by the military for 30 years. The ox had risen again!
Wounded but never crushed
Umar created the work Thawr, Thawra after the revolution in 2012–2013. It became an expression of his wounded dream. “It was a painful experience to be deprived of hope, to feel that the dream I had all my life would be even harder to achieve”, says Umar.
“My screams, my therapy and my comfort were put into one and a half tons of clay where I depicted the Sudanese people, including myself. Strong, wounded but never crushed.” The ox lies with its head under the ground and its horns high, bloody and emaciated. Is it lying and waiting for death? Or is it gathering strength to rise again?
A revolution in clay
Umar's sculpture is highly burnt and glazed with red copper glaze, also called ox blood, a glaze that can give associations to pure, fresh blood. The horns of the ox stand as high as the artist himself. He began working on the sculpture during his second year at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. This was the versatile artist's first attempt to create a ceramic work. It became a lesson in building up individual parts into a larger whole. Building such a large sculpture, or creating a revolution in clay, takes time. One must be patient and focused.
In his artistic work, says Umar: “Objects are my language. I think and talk through my body. I share from my own life; my experiences, disappointments, dreams and things I want to change. At the same time, I demand my place in a society that systematically deprives you of your voice.”
- The artist in conversation with curator education Helga Gravermoen, 12.2020
- Interview with Ahmed Umar, by curator Anne Sommerin Simonnæs, 5.8.2020
The Norwegian-Sudanese artist Ahmed Umar works in a number of different materials and artistic expressions, including ceramics, textiles, graphics, photography and performance. Umar came to Norway from Sudan as a political refugee in 2008. In 2016 he earned his master's degree in medium and material-based art at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. His art has been exhibited at several major art institutions in Norway and purchased by, among others, the National Museum, Drammen Museum of Art and Cultural History and the City of Oslo’s art collection.
Finding his own voice
A childhood that was characterised by political instability, and completely structured around religion, forms the starting point for Umar's art projects. After he came to Norway, the experiences of having to adapt to a new culture and the desire to find his own voice have been central.
Umar explores the relationship between gender, sexuality, power and art. He conveys strong stories that communicate directly with basic human senses and emotions. The works reflect stories from his own life, and include a long process of self-understanding and acceptance. He draws inspiration from Sudan's vast wealth of culture and art, often from female artisans. Arabic calligraphy is also a recurring element in his works.
Umar was awarded Scheibler's Arts and Crafts Award in 2018 and the debutante award for his installation Hijab (Annual Protection) at The Norwegian Association for Arts and Crafts annual exhibition in 2017.
2017 Hijab (Annual Protection)
2017 “Would any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother?”
2016 What Lasts! (Sarcophagus)
2021 Glowing Phalanges: Prayer Beads
2014 Thawr, Thawra ثور, ثورة (Ox, Revolution)