Graffiti artist Assil Diab (B.F.A.’11/A) was honored with a 10 Under 10 award from the VCU Office of Alumni Relations. The program celebrates notable achievements by alumni who earned their first VCU degree within the past 10 years.
Diab was selected as an honoree to acknowledge her activism work in Sudan. As a graffiti artist and muralist, Diab uses her art as a platform for social and cultural change and is considered the first graffiti artist in Sudan.
Diab, alongside nine other nominees, was honored in a ceremony at VCU on Oct., 22, 2021.
In addition to this honor, Diab was also a featured speaker at a panel discussion hosted by Qatar Foundation and VCUarts in late October. Art and Conflict: A Window on the World, a Window into Us, was a timely and thought-provoking conversation on art and activism, with thousands tuning in worldwide.
From the VCU Office of Alumni Relations
As an undergraduate intern in New York City in 2010, Assil Diab fell in love with the graffiti she saw all around her. She couldn’t have predicted how her new passion would change the course of her life.
The Romanian-born Diab has lived most of her life in Sudan and Qatar. A scholarship to the VCU School of the Arts in Qatar enabled her to come to the U.S. and complete her bachelor’s in fine arts at the VCU campus in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating in 2011, her life changed again the next year, when she took an internship in Qatar as part of a team helping French-Tunisian street artist El Seed with a substantial mural project. That’s when she first tried spray painting and discovered her own talent for the medium. Abandoning her original career goal to become a shoe designer, she became a full-time graffiti artist, and “Sudalove” was born.
“I call myself ‘Sudalove’ as an expression of love for Sudan and to outwardly identify the voice I have as a Sudanese woman through my art,” she says. In her first exhibit, in Qatar, nine of the 13 works of graffiti on canvas were sold in the first two days. She has since exhibited in Bahrain, Germany, Bangladesh and the U.S.
After her epiphany in 2012, she began painting murals of notable Sudanese cultural and political figures; she’d often add an excerpt of their work to go with the portrait, such as a few lines of poetry with the writer’s larger-than-life image. That initial project ultimately led to the Martyrs Graffiti Project. During the Sudanese revolution in 2019, she painted 30 murals in and around Khartoum and three other locations, showing the faces of protesters who had died in the uprising.
This powerful use of graffiti art as nonviolent protest was done at significant personal cost and at the risk of her safety, but the ripple effect has been gratifying. “Now, there are murals and paintings on every corner, where previously there had been none,” Sudalove notes. “People continue to honor the martyrs in their towns.
In 2020, she won a UNESCO dissemination award for her street art campaign raising awareness about COVID-19.
Now living in Doha, Qatar, she’s working on a documentary film about the project while pursuing other big dreams. She wants to conduct workshops that empower women to be creators as a path to self-sufficiency. Another major goal is to work with Sudanese children to paint the world’s biggest mural along the Nile — a significant work of art that would also serve as an example of a Sudanese woman breaking traditional barriers in the quest for positive cultural change.
“I am proud to be a pioneer as the first graffiti artist from Sudan and Qatar. I think it’s important for people of my culture to see a woman using artwork as nonviolent activism,” Sudalove says. “There is nothing more I could have wanted than to inspire people to use art to share their voices.”