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Painters 2013

El Tayeb

In Matondoni, El Tayeb sits in the shade on a baraza, a public bench built onto the wall near a doorway. The door here leads to a shop, a small room with shelves along the wall, empty except for a few objects. For its lack of things to sell, it is a busy place and people move in and out buying small items—matches, chewing gum, sugar. El Tayeb has open a sketchbook in front of him. He dips a carved wooden implement that he uses as a pen into the jar of ink and begins to draw using quick movements of his wrist. People at the shop ask him in their Swahili language what he’s drawing, thinking he can understand them. El Tayeb is often mistaken to be Swahili. His north Sudanese features are familiar to people in Lamu where there is a long history of Arab - African marriages.

El Tayeb doesn’t hear their questions. Instead he concentrates on drawing his subject—a dog taking a nap in the shade nearby. The gathering begins to figure it out and they call out to each other “anachora mbwa”, he is drawing the dog. Now, they are truly confused. Why the dog? Earlier, he was drawing donkeys and collecting pottery shards—just as confusing. “It’s not only painting that I am interested in, El Tayeb explains holding out the pottery pieces he’s collected, “it’s also about Lamu’s history and culture.” Later, the shards reappear. On them, he has drawn ancient-looking faces resembling those of Mayan, Egyptian and Incan art. They are what El Tayeb refers to as his “archaeology of life”. Other works are painted on discarded wood—pieces from window shutters, doors and the like. Here he applies paint and etches figures in the pigment. The process ages the piece, invoking the past and excavating the present—in an El Tayeb way.

El Tayeb Dawalbait was born in 1967 in Kosti, Sudan. He trained at Khartoum’s University of Science and Technology in the school of fine art. He has lived in Nairobi since the late 1990s. He moved to Nairobi when he went into exile because of the political reforms of the current Sudan government.