Abul Oyay : My Plate of Combo

The invitation to the exhibition came across WhatsApp, Facebook, and other social media platforms and in no time, word spread about Abul Oyay’s hosting of her first art exhibition since moving onto the compound of the Visually Impaired in Juba, South Sudan. Baobab House – named for the large baobab tree in the front yard – was the venue and everyone was excited. Both locals and internationals expressed interest in coming out to view the new pieces as well as older works by Abul. The event was a hit and the theme “My Plate of Combo” was totally fitting.

Combo, a South Sudanese food, is a staple meal that everyone knows, eats, and loves. It’s the dish that is low cost and high in nutrition. It is also very delicious and filling especially when eaten with kisra (South Sudan’s flat bread). Made with okra and local peanut butter, Combo helps people get through lean times and no one gets tired of eating it.

Abul chose the theme “My Plate of Combo” to share how her art has sustained her through very tough times in the past. She also chose the theme to express the hospitality of South Sudanese when sharing food. Fadal: An Arabic word that means welcome is one that is usually spoken especially when eating and can be a greeting to complete strangers to join in sharing a meal.  During the event, Abul not only welcomed friends and strangers into her home, she also allowed her guests to learn a bit more about her which turned out to be a special treat.

In the past, she’d been told that some of her work was too expensive so, My Plate of Combo was Abul’s way to allow those with smaller wallets afford to buy her work – just as providing a plate of Combo to one’s family is inexpensive. And in her humble way, she used some of the proceeds to uphold her commitment to her visually impaired neighbors – that being to support them in their endeavors to participate in creative activities. Abul opened up and shared why she’d chosen the theme, her commitment to her neighbors, and updated her guest on all the new artwork. There were pieces priced as low as $200 and those that cost $1500.

Each piece of art that Abul Oyay creates is one-of-a-kind and when someone purchases a piece from her, they know that no one else has a copy of it. What they also need to know is that they are not only buying art, they are supporting a young and developing nation. Abul travels all over South Sudan for inspiration and always finds a way to give back to those that inspire her. Much of her work incorporates themes from places she’s visited as well as materials like coffee, kerkede (hibiscus), and stitching by local women; techniques she shares during her monthly “Wine and Canvas” event at the Baobab House. Locals as well as internationals interested in painting join her in creating art and learning new best practices directly from Abul. Participants are invited to “paint, drink wine, and have fun” while spending time with other art-lovers and Abul. Wine and Canvas is Abul’s special way of sharing her talent with others as well as showing the uniqueness of what it is to be a South Sudanese. Just as she takes time so give to others, she also takes her time with each piece she paints and adds a personal touch ensuring that what is sold is wholly unique and satisfying – just as Combo is and has been for South Sudanese – Abul Oyay’s work is distinctive and simply beautiful.

By: Saree Mading

Good Vibes Magazine issue 1, Nov 2019