Elevate Difference

The Fatal Beauty of Tajooj (7/15/2010)

Khartoum, Sudan

My artwork offers a glimpse into my world. I hope that it inspires your imagination and leaves you with a lasting impression. - Suzanne Hilal

Last Thursday, in a small cafe in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, guests sipped lemon juice and lattes and listened to a number of young men perform modern love songs as Suzanne Hilal transported a sizable audience hundreds of years back to an isolated place in East Sudan through her collection of print works. Hilal, a Sudanese-English artist whose work spans a range of mediums including printmaking, pastels, and ink, is known for the way her works are inspired by Sudanese folktales and reflects the country's culture and history.

The name of the exhibition, The Fatal Beauty of Tajooj, is taken from a well-known and tragic love story. According to Sudanese grandmothers, Tajooj was the most beautiful girl in Sudan during their time. She was also the love interest of her cousin, who was known for attacking neighboring tribes. One version of Tajooj's story tells us that the cousin in question, Mohlaq, was forced to divorce Tajooj because she was expected to marry another man. Another telling of the legend says Mohlaq's uncle refused the marriage proposal to his daughter because Mohlaq publicly declared his love for Tajooj in a song, which was against the traditions of his tribe.

Wandering the desert for the rest of his life, Mohlaq was brokenhearted and lost. The beautiful Tajooj was attacked and killed by a group of bandits. A sword was plunged deep into her chest, we are told.

Hilal was first introduced to folktales as an undergraduate student working on a paper comparing Sudanese and Arab stories. During her research, she read five books of these stories from different regions and tribes, and stumbled upon the story of Tajooj in Ali Lutfi Abdallah's The Clever Sheikh of the Butana and Other Stories.

"Her beauty is taken from Tajooj" declares a popular Sudanese song. "You will see the beauty of Tajooj in her people," declares another song about Kassala, the closest city to the town Tajooj was from.

One day, between her artwork and studying law in Chicago, Hilal plans to write and illustrate her own love story. Based on her own multicultural heritage, the story will be set in Sudan, but will end like an English love story: happily.

Written by: Reem Abbas Shawkat, July 20th 2010