Hassan Musa Mail Art Collection

Scope and Content

The catalogue lists 58 items; several contain two or more pieces that tally for a total number of 70 pieces. There are 40 ‘works of art’ of which 36 are the artist’s Mail Art; the other four are lino prints. ‘Correspondence’ includes accordion letters with photographs and drawings, drawings on envelopes and cards by Aya Musa (the Musas’ daughter), undecorated post cards and ephemera.

Administrative / Biographical History

Hassan Musa (b.1951, Sudan), a contemporary visual artist, is well-known for his complex textile paintings and subjective calligraphy. For many years, his eye-catching hand-made works, often satirical, sometimes absurd, have been exhibited in innovative, international group shows (list below) and in commercial galleries. His practice demonstrates how new imagery transcends the canons for African, Islamic and western art to represent a plural identity. Concomitantly, as a persistent activist, Musa has widened the reach of conventional visual art through his teaching, critical commentary (published and on-line), performances, illustrated books and most relevant herein: Mail Art.

Mail Art, also known as Correspondence or Post Art, is a popular genre associated with anti-establishment activity during 1960’s New York that reached its peak in the 1990’s. It involves some kind of artistic enhancement of envelopes or post cards, often using stamps as elements in the composition. These small-scale works are sent through the regular mail as “free art” to surprise friends and all persons who glimpse at them along the way and afterwards. They are intended for an open audience, operating away from the commercial art market. Mail Art has an immediacy, an accessibility that in Musa’s case offers insights into his more complex works, which also appropriate cultural and modern icons, e.g. the Last Supper (French: Cena), St Sebastian, Van Gogh, Marianne (a symbol of French nationalism), Josephine Baker. (22.01.14, Musa interview with Jenny Horricks, BBC Africa Today Podcast).

Musa has engaged in this genre since the late 1980’s, keeping records of his works since 1992. While most recipients are family members and Sudanese artists and friends, e.g. Ibrahim el Salahi, Salah Hassan, Fathi Osman, S.H. Ahmed, Mohamed Mahmoud, they also include the Kenyan doyenne Magdalene Odundo and the late Warren Shaw, who had worked at the Sudan Institute of Education: Bahkt-el-Rudha during the mid-1950’s and made some translations for the Musas during the 1990’s.

Hassan Musa spent his childhood in provincial Sudan (El Nuhud, North Kordofan) where his father was a cattle trader. From an early age, he was intrigued by the variety of human imagery, inclusive of Arabic calligraphy, cinema and Chinese cultural magazines. He moved to Khartoum to attend the College of Fine and Applied Arts, Khartoum Polytechnic (K.T.I.). After graduation (1974), he worked for several years in media in what was a vibrant time for the expressive arts in Khartoum. In 1978, he moved to France for further education in fine art and art history, earning a doctorate from the University of Montpellier (1989) on the topic ‘The Shift in Cultural References to people in Central Sudan through the example of Contemporary Fine Art’ [Le Mutation des Reférences Culturelles Chez Les Citadins de Soudan Septentrional Le Cas Des Arts Plastiques]. Musa earned a diploma in art education (1996) and was a classroom art teacher for twenty years. He lives and works in southern France with regular visits to China where his son resides and Sudan where he shares an interest in Sudanese oral literature with his scholar wife Patricia.

Select group, public exhibitions

2018 13th Dakar Biennale L’Heure Rouge

2017 Tresors de l’Islam en Afrique, Institut du Monde L’Arabe, Paris

2017 Afriques Capitales, Paris & Lille

2016 Khartoum School The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan (1945- present), Sharjah Art Foundation

2015+ Lumières d’Afriques. Artists for Development, National Theatre Chaillot, Paris & tour

2012+ The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell revisited by Contemporary African Artists. National Museum of African Art , Washington, D.C. & tour

2008 Black Womanhood: Images, Icons and Ideologies of the African Body. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, U.S.A. & tour

2005 L’Occident vu par l’Orient. CCCB, Barcelona

2004+ Africa Remix. Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Hayward Gallery, London & tour

2004+ Sudan Past And Present, British Museum Reading Room

2002+ Looking Both Ways Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora. Museum for African Art, New York City & tour

1997 47th Venice Biennale Modernities and Memories Recent Works from the Islamic World

1995+ Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa. Whitechapel Art Gallery, London & tour

1976 FESTAC, Lagos, Nigeria

Exhibitions of Musa’s Mail/Post Art [* = this collection]

1992 Savannah Gallery, London

1995* SOAS, Foyer galleries of the Khalili Lecture Theatre

2013-14 GAFRA* Gallery for African Art, London

2015 Maia Muller Gallery of Contemporary Art, Paris

2016* Sharjah Art Foundation (in Khartoum School The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan (1945- present)

Musa is represented by Maia Muller Gallery of Contemporary Art, Paris

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in broadly chronological order.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection currently on display in the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, until 23rd March 2019.

Restrictions Apply

Acquisition Information

The donation was made to the SOAS Library in June 2018 by Elsbeth Court, an academic who teaches African Art on the IFCELS course at SOAS, with the support and agreement of the artist Hassan Musa. It comprises items that were received and collected by Court who has known and worked with Musa since 1992, when he first exhibited in London and performed a ‘graphic ceremony’ in the old Assembly Hall, SOAS. Since then, he has enjoyed intermittent associations with the School including a mini-exhibition of his Mail Art during the opening week of the Africa’95 season (see Africa’95 Archive, Ref No: AF95, and the SOAS Archive: Centre of African Studies for ‘African Artists: School, Studio and Society', Ref No: SOAS/CEN/01/01/40) and other cultural spaces and events in London.

Alternative Form Available

Digital copies of material in this collection can be see on the SOAS Digital Collections.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright in the artwork of Hassan Musa assigned to SOAS by the artist, 2018. Copyrights persist in other images and texts. The user is advised to investigate copyrights before making any re-use of this material.

Accruals

A further donation is intended to provide more of their correspondence and other documents that are associated with the Mail Art.