2 October 2018

Sudan: Bastawi Baghdadi, A Royal Portrait Painter, Designer of Stamps and Medals

Khartoum — Professor Bastawi Baghdadi's talents as a plastic artist, painter and colorist have shown up while he was a student in Bakht al-Rudha Secondary School during the British rule of Sudan.

He drew the attention of his English teacher who persuaded him to change his study choice from engineering to the graphic art in which he turned out to be a pioneer and symbol, achieving great accomplishments for the Sudan as the first designers of post stamps after the Independence.

Professor Baghdadi was born in 1927 in the Bostah (post) neighborhood of Omdurman, the twin Sudanese capital, six years before his father's demise, according to his daughter, Dr. Aydah, speaking to SUDANOW about the eventful life of her father.

She added that the future Professor and his sole brother were brought up by their mother and her brother, their uncle, and that his ingenuity and smartness were obvious since his early years of age, showing a high interest in painting and coloring.

He was admitted to Bakht al-Rudha School which was exclusive to distinguished students. Baghdadi's interest was to study engineering according to his marks, but upon noticing his multiple talents in painting and coloring, his English teacher advised him to study plastic art.

After studying drawing and painting at the School of Design, Gordon Memorial College (now University of Khartoum), he got a scholarship in Goldsmiths College, in London, in 1946, where he met painters from different British colonies and he graduated in 1949-50.

On his return from London, Baghdadi joined the Khartoum Fine Arts College as a teacher, then in 1962 he was sent to New York for further studies in painting in Pratt Institute there. On his return from Pratt Institute, Baghdadi was appointed a principal of the college, the first Sudanese to assume this position after the Independence. While he was in charge of the college, HM Queen Elisabeth, who happened to be visiting Sudan, asked to pay a visit to the college. He prepared for the royal visit an interesting programme and included an exhibition of captivating portraits. The Queen greatly admired the programme and the exhibition and was pleased with the warm welcome at the college and had a memorial picture with the Principal. Upon her return home, she sent Baghdadi, through the British Embassy, a message of thanks and appreciation.

Professor Baghdadi was appointed a cultural attaché in the Sudanese Embassy in the then Soviet Union before returning to Sudan to assume once again the post of principal of the Fine Arts College through 1971-76. Following the term of his service in the College Professor Baghdadi was appointed Director of the Cultural and External Relations of Higher Education due to the experience and relations he developed while he was abroad. Baghdadi held the latter position until his retirement.

Besides his administrative and educational activities, Professor Baghdadi played a number of roles inside Sudan and abroad. He was the first one to design a Sudanese post stamp after the Independence that carried a picture of a camel which was first appeared on a coin during the Ottoman (Turkish) rule of Sudan. It has become a famous stamp with the camel referring to the post distributor. On the centennial anniversary of the stamp, its designer Baghdadi added pictures of some Sudanese antiquities. Also, he was the first one to design a stamp that stressed the African identity of the Sudan to counter the previous stamps which implied that the Sudan belonged to Egypt. This stamp was introduced during a celebration of the African Development Bank.

Equally, the Professor designed yet another stamp linking the Sudan to the Arab identity on the fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Arab Postal Union. The post stamps Baghdadi designed alone exceeded 53 stamps.

He was leading in the design of the Sudanese medals and decorations which used to be imported and Baghdadi was honored for this task. This included the Nile Decoration which was bestowed unto Turkish President Recep Tayyeb Erdogan during his recent visit to Sudan.

The Professor also designed costumes for a number of colleges.

On an assignment by the State and a number of institutions, Baghdadi painted such eminent figures as Imam Mohamed Ahmed al-Mahdi, Imam Al-Hady and Emperor Haile Selassie a portrait of whom is still in the Republican Palace of Khartoum and another was taken by the late Emperor to his palace in Addis Ababa. He also played a great role in research and study centers and in preparing curricula.

Moreover, Baghdadi was a founding member of the Plastic Artists Union over which he presided in a number of sessions; he represented the Sudan in the distribution of the possessions of Faras Church (north Sudan). He was a member of the Arab League Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a dean of the Music and Theatre Institute, chairman of the National Council for Arts and Letters and chairman of the committee for evaluation of the innovators.

He organized and took part in exhibitions within and outside Sudan, the most important of which was the Arab painters' exhibition in London, Sawakin Week exhibition, the cultural week in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Aydah

Baghdadi took part in several events abroad, including the International year of refugees, the world solidarity for fighting malaria, the child health, the ICRC centennial anniversary in collaboration with the Sudanese Red Crescent and the international anti-hunger campaign.

He painted numerous portraits, including the possessions in the Jordanian national museum and the Sharjah national museum. Baghdadi also contributed to the Silver Jubilee of the Arab Post, the fifty-year anniversary of the girls' education in Sudan and the initiative for rescuing the Sudanese Nubian antiquities.

Dr. Aydah said her father was nick-named the Plastic Artists' Father as he was the instructor and sponsor of all plastic artists and students with whom he exchanged love irrespective of their intentions and affiliations. He used to settle differences and political disputes among the students by inviting them to his house to contain their anger and to prevent their arrest, although he was not affiliated to any political party and his affiliation was only to the Sudan which he loved and was proud of it and of its people. Her father's love for Sudan made Dr. Aydah establish Bastawi Baghdadi Culture and Arts Foundation as a continuation to his cultural and arts activities, she said.

Being a modest scholar, Aydah went on, Baghdadi on retirement engaged in service with high colleges, institutes and schools to be among the students whom he loved. He worked as a teacher in Al-Ahfad University and Ahliyah University and the Unity High School. He died in 2007.

She said her father also loved Sawakin city, on the Red Sea, and he reflected this love in portraits of its antiquities and in the university visits he organized for that city. The Sudanese-Turkish Center plans to organize an exhibition of his Sawakin works in late October, Dr. Aydah said.

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