Exhibition and fundraiser for Sudan in Oxford, UK

Reporting by Nadia Awad for Radio Dabanga

An exhibition entitled Identity, Belonging and Change – Historical Portrait of Everyday Life in Sudan, was opened in October by the Oxford University Sudanese Society, in collaboration with the Africa Society, seeking to highlight the stories of everyday people in Sudan, touching on themes of past and present hospitality, resilience, sorrows and joys.

In her opening address, Buthaina Abugsaisa, President of Oxford University Sudanese Society, referred to the current violence in Sudan, praising the nation’s “remarkable journey and struggle for democracy”.

“Today we gather here and realise that those struggling for power can try to take everything away, but not our memories, heritage, and love for our country. We gather here to celebrate the culture of Sudan,” Abugsaisa said.

The exhibition, at the FusionArts exhibition space in Oxford’s Gloucester Green, formed part of the A History of Ordinary People in Africa (HOPIA) series by the university’s Humanities Cultural Programme.

An art auction was held, with contributions by artists Dalageen, Sali Mudawi, and Salah Tahir, event raised more than GBP2,000, to aid displaced families in Sudan, and help create scholarship opportunities.

The Sudan exhibition explored how Sudanese people survive and live through times of uncertainty. The artwork was organised thematically to explore generational change and personal experiences as microcosms of larger societal transformations. Themes included ‘Society and Change’, and ‘Hospitality: Joys and Sorrows’.

Featured artwork included pieces by Fatima Mohamed Ali, Sari Omer, Waha, Talha Gibreel, and Galal, the last of whose murals were on the walls of Khartoum during the uprising of 2019. Attendees were provided an insight into the artists’ creative lives through posters outlining their personal biographies, career trajectories and their sources of inspiration and reflections on the contemporary art world.

The exhibition showcased photographs from Sali Mudawi’s Bint El Sudan project. Mudawi’s artwork celebrates and links Sudanese women both in Sudan and within the diaspora, offering a visual expression of each woman’s unique personal connection to her Sudanese heritage. “However, all are bound together and homogenised by a traditional golden headpiece featured in all the photos.”

Bayan Abubakr, a PhD candidate at Yale University, gave an illuminating talk entitled Slavery, Violence and Memory in 19th century Sudan. Abubakr studies the history of slavery and capital in the Afro-Arab world during the 19th century. Her research explores how enslaved people and slave traders in Ottoman-Egyptian Sudan shaped racial identities and governance, ultimately contributing to the formation of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Her talk explored the long history of the Zar tradition as a communal archival practice with diasporic resonances, functioning as a language of resistance.

HOPIA Project

A History of Ordinary People in Africa (HOPIA) is a cultural heritage project consisting of a series of historical exhibitions. It is undertaken by members of the Oxford University Africa Society in partnership with Fusion Arts Oxford and supported by TORCH as part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, and the Oxford African Studies Centre. Ghana was the focal point of the first HOPIA exhibition in May 2022.

HOPIA emphasises the social experience of everyday life and reveals how ordinary people participate in the process of social change. ‘Ordinary’ in this context is used to refer to the less dominant, less visible, and less ‘powerful’ individuals in society, and to express their methods of participating in the process of social change. This emphasis was evident in the exhibition’s curation; quotes from Sudanese people about their daily lives in the country were placed alongside photos of quotidian experiences, locations, and memories.

Materials were sourced from members of the Oxford University Africa Society and the Oxford University Sudanese Society and assembled thereafter. ‘Assembly’ was employed as a method of research and form of presentation for the exhibition. This is inspired by Stuart Hall, a Jamaican-born British sociologist and cultural theorist, who considered assembly as a method of historical reconstruction, demonstrating narratives “not as a unity, but in all their contradictory dispersion”.

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