Season of Migration To The North Mohammad Omar Khalil
This book is a place of encounter, a journey, and a dialogue between Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North,and Mohammad Omar Khalil’s etchings which pay tribute to this infamous literary work.
The result of a two-year-long project, the 30 hand-numbered artist’s books are named after the original novel by late Sudanese author Tayeb Salih.
Tayeb Salih’s widely esteemed novel was first published in the pages of Beiruti magazine Hiwar in 1966. One year later, in 1967, Beirut-based publishers Dar al-Awda released the first edition. That very year, Mohammad Omar Khalil moved to New York City, intending to work in journalism or advertising. Instead, he became one of the Arab world’s most prominent artists. This coincidence of dates is further reinforced by an intersection of journeys: the fictional narrator of Salih’s novel returned to his homeland after seven years abroad in the “North,” whereas Khalil embarked on the inverse voyage. The overlapping dates, combined with the mingling tension of fictional and real migrations, were the impulse for a project that, 50 years later, would lead to the re-edition of Salih’s milestone text, accompanied by Khalil’s artworks.
2017. A collaboration between Dongola and Khalil imagines a third Beiruti edition of Salih’s seminal text—a testament not only to the Lebanese capital’s prominence as a cultural epicentre, but also to the continuous relevance of both Salih’s literary vision and Khalil’s artistic finesse.
2019. Season of Migration to the North, a bi-lingual edition-cum-artwork, is launched, 50 years after the first English translation of Salih’s novel appeared in London in 1969. Using zinc plates, Khalil engraved a series of ten original etchings depicting scenes from Season of Migration to the North. Less illustration than interpretation, the artworks capture Khalil’s profound intellectual and visual connection to the book. Dialoguing with the novel, the etchings constitute a visceral response to a work lodged deep within the artist’s memory. Khalil’s works accompany a distinctive re-edition of the novel in its original Arabic, designed by Reza Abedini, itself graced with an etching on the cover. Alongside the Arabic version sits a secondhand copy of its English translation, sourced from online retailers—an indication of the novel’s mobility and continued influence on East-West dialogues.
Khalil’s work is both intimate and intricate. Sudanese landscapes abound, from a bowing palm tree to the curve of the Nile’s delta. The figure of a man spiraling out of control—trapped and directionless—features on the Arabic novel’s cover, echoing the narrator’s growing disorientation throughout the story.
The Dongola-Khalil-Salih triad is a site of both literary and visual encounter. Between artist and author, of course. But also between past and present, colonizer and colonized. This homage prompts the rediscovery of an important voice in Arab literature, whose refusal to settle for definite borders and fixed identities resonates in today’s global context.
Under the direction of co-founder Abed AlKadiri, Dongola crafts works of critical and artistic reflection through the very process of book-making. The etchings and two novels are nested in a hand-made box with a wooden interior and zinc exterior. Such materials are a nod to the hybridity of Season of Migration to the North, and a testament to the publishing house’s commitment to craftsmanship and exquisite production values as a vital part of its artistic process.
MOHAMMAD OMAR KHALIL (1936 – ) Born in Khartoum, Sudan, lives and works in New York City since 1967. Khalil is one of the Arab world’s most important contemporary painters, having influenced two generations of regional artists. His work, spanning over forty years, across painting and print-making, is in a privileged position between the canon of modern Arab art and the artist’s ground-breaking practice, searching for a dialogue between dissimilar cultures. Profoundly influenced by his travels throughout the Middle East – in particular Morocco and Sudan – and the art history of Europe that he became immersed in during his studies in Italy, Khalil has brought to life a pioneering form of art, in which elements and patterns from tradition merge with pop art and fine prints.His work has been part of numerous solo and group exhibitions in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Americas. The artist’s work is found in different public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Grenoble Museum in France, the Jordanian National Museum and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
TAYEB SALIH (1929-2009) Born in Karmakol in the Northern Province of Sudan in 1929. He studied at the University of Khartoum before leaving for the University of London in England. For more than ten years, Salih wrote a weekly column for the London-based Arabic language newspaper al Majalla in which he explored various literary themes. He worked for the BBC’s Arabic Service and later spent the last 10 years of his working career with UNESCO in Paris where he held various posts and was UNESCO’s representative in the Arab States of the Persian Golf. After years of success as a diplomat and education advocate, Salih published Season of Migration to the North in 1969. The novel won immediate accolades from critics worldwide, and it remains his most famous book, alongside the novella The Wedding of Zein. His collected works, which include political essays, travel writing, and book reviews, are popular and widely available in Arabic.