Adam Henawy grew up in a cluster of huts surrounded by walls of straw in western Sudan.
His family farmed sorghum, a grass that produces a grain used in sorghum molasses, and raised animals to sell. As a child growing up in a remote village, Henawy would draw pictures of his surroundings, including camels, donkeys, sheep and trees, and play games by moonlight, including a version of hide-and-seek that involved throwing bones into tall grass. His school day included math, geography, Arabic and the history of Islam.
When he decided to attend a university in Sudan, he found, to his surprise, the offering of art classes.
“I did not know art would be taught in a university,” he said. He studied art for a while and then went on to teach others to read and write in Darfur for five years. After the war began in Darfur in 2003, he taught art in Sudan and Egypt to refugee children and internally displaced people (a term for those forced to flee their homes who remain in their own countries). During those 10 years, he also exhibited and sold his paintings in galleries and cultural centers.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in his country and millions have been displaced as Sudanese military and police battle rebels. Henawy fled his country with the help of immigration organizations and has been in Spokane for the past four months. He is studying English at Spokane Community College, seeking employment and painting.
He uses mixed media, including acrylic paint and paper torn from magazines or newspapers. His style is bright and represents the culture and folklore of his people, as well as the pain of war and displacement. He hopes his work will shed light on the plights of his people.
“I hope to help restore peace,” he said, adding that educating others is perhaps the best way. “Not many people know of the genocide happening there.”
He plans to return to Darfur when peace is reached, although he does not think that will be any time soon.
His first priority is to master the English language and then to visually share his stories to help bring peace to others through exposure and understanding, as well as the knowledge that playing in tall grass has its benefits.