The role of artists in the socio-political situation in Sudan post-change

Stella Gaitano

Arts between the terror of regimes and the resistance of artists:

In a previous article, I talked about the relationship between art and power during the era of political Islam in Sudan, where the ruling regime felt threatened by the practice of art and mobilized all its inhumane and brutal tools to suppress and restrict cultural and artistic works across all Sudanese cities, especially those that were not compatible with them. In the same context there were both evident and hidden acts of resistance from artists, writers and courageous attempts to breathe through this marsh of suppression.

That regime fought art and artists alike, tarnished all artists’ images and demonized their works to the point that it affected the public perception of art. The regime also confiscated many different cultural platforms, diminished the impact of culture, and replaced the emptiness created by the lack of artists with propaganda tools for the regime and materials of ideological arts of superficial, patronizing and tedious nature.

Artists resisted this atmosphere, some of them by migration and succeeding abroad, some by working silently within the unseen dark corners in the regime, and some by stopping completely and contenting with silent bitter watch and inner criticism.

This relationship of terror and resistance continued during all 30 years of the ruling regime. Such terror is explained in the deep impact of something governments view as dangerous: which is the increase of awareness either on individual level or on a public one.

The political situation in Sudan after the change:

The dire economic situation in Sudan post-revolution (a carried burden from the previous regime) casts a cloak of darkness on the sociopolitical state in the nation and can be a threat to social peace as it was seen in different Sudanese regions, accompanied with as the ongoing judicial trials conducted on the previous regime figureheads. To preserve the state from collapsing, both internal, regional, and international support is needed for Sudan in order to transit this thorny period into a safer one. And I consider this a collective transitional transformation, from the state of revolution to the state of institution, from the terrors of war to the cradle of peace, and from relentless suppression to the undaunted spaces of freedom.

This situation adds heavy burdens and challenging responsibilities on artists and Intellectuals on how they can create tools and speeches which can gently embody this fragile state to be the pillars of equilibrium preventing the fall, and to be the mirror which reflects the hopes and dreams of people and a ray of hope for a unified serene future.

The social situation in Sudan after change:

Freedom is one of the obtained aspects of change which people can feel in their everyday social and cultural demeanors, and for the first time in ages, arts can again breathe freely, for we see murals rousing the principles of revolution everywhere in sight without suppression, without confiscation…murals on roads aren’t an alien sight anymore! they aren’t tarnished or rejected, but rather the contrary: Visual art is now welcomed and embraced by most members of the community. visual art is an everyday reminder of the cry for revolution, an everyday reminder for the families of the martyrs, for the mothers who lost their children fighting for change, an everyday reminder for everyone that this change was a result of united sacrifice.

Constructed on these freshly unbound freedoms, a number of cultural activities were conducted and celebrated without the pre-revolution state of endless bureaucracy and permissions from regime security intelligence which meant to be a hurdle against these kind of events.

Now at the new era of change, artists can sense the limitless boundaries of freedom on personal levels which will reflect on their artistic activities, an example of such is the first theatrical play I personally attended after the revolution which titled “Owen café” in friendship hall. I sensed an evident change in form and methodology of display, especially the piece was considered to me of a feminist nature which addressed several social issues for women in a daring and bold on-stage courage.

What I witnessed in this play have shown me that this revolution has created noticeable deep impacts on the borders of Sudanese reality and freedom of speech. During the era of the previous regime, the essence of such work would’ve been prohibited and rejected even from the same demographic which was afflicted by the ideological and forced suppression to women’s bodies and voices. Also I’ve witnessed premieres of short movies which were prohibited for several reasons including thoughts and concepts of such movies let alone their display, like the movie “you will die at 20, Khartoum offside, and talking about trees” these are all movies which would’ve been judged and denounced by the mentality of the old regime.

On a social level, there is a tireless readiness for a new life coated by the acceptance of differences and coexistence with each other. In this atmosphere, arts will flourish and cultural platforms will get rebuilt after their long abduction by security authorities. Activities might even reach neighborhoods and social circles easily, especially when arts dictate the competent mechanism of which the transitional period’s key issues –like justice, freedom, and peace treaties- are addressed through. The politician should know and understand that the culturist is the heart and motor of the forthcoming change.

The role of artists in socio-political context in Sudan post revolution:

The current post-revolution state imposed a feverish atmosphere from the economic crisis Sudan is faced with, alongside national pressure reflected in haste of seeing the results of revolution on a physical scale. An echo of discontent roamed the nation with reverberating cries of doubt about the political situation, all that led to the question of uncertainty: “Sudan… where to?” This state originated from the heavy sacrifices Sudanese had to pay in order to reach a favorable state for everyone, that made the key players of this revolution favor accreting the wheel of radical change which is a complicated process and shouldn’t be rushed or hastened as long as the people’s desire and the wise management of the transitional period exist.

The direct intervention for artists is crucial in order to absorb the atmosphere of tension between slow execution of tasks and late results, and the delay of physical noticeable results accompanied by people’s emotions for swift change and their desires for peace and

Arts can achieve combined consensus and turn people emotions around more spontaneously and quickly than politicized speeches. One artist can move a positive atmosphere with little effort and in a short time, and they can address issues of high sensitivity in a simplified creative approach, and prepare people to accept new facts by asking new questions from the heart of societies themselves. Artists’ imagination exceeds the inelasticity of politicians and the conservativeness of the people around them. Considering all of the above, artists must make a leap of faith to believe in the power of their influence, and they must organize themselves as individuals and groups and start immediately to fulfill their social and national responsibilities and be the leaders of the next era as they are always entrusted with, and their only legitimacy is based upon their glittering magic of influence.

Why artists are considered the unsung leaders in this thorny era of Sudan?

-Because they think imaginatively even in the darkest times

-Because they have the ability to capture the public’s heart and emotions.

-Because they are highly sensitive toward expressing the needs of others through poems, paintings, and music.

-Because they have the ability of easily absorbing the negative atmosphere of tension and forming detours around the presented art piece.

-Because they are extensively accepted.

There might be extra merits but basing on these qualities: artists can do a lot and influence even more on the wheel of events, especially if they want to address urgent key issues (like the constitutional document and newly signed peace treaties). Both of which have cultural scopes and latitudes: such as issues of peace, peace-building, peaceful coexistence, acceptance of others, identity, diversity. These are all issues in which artists can contribute and be part from. That being said, artists cannot work in isolation from the state and its organization of activities, groups and artistic individuals. The administration of Art in Sudan through state institutions is also suffering currently from the state of transition, to convert and reform the organizational suppressive structures and regulations meant to restrict freedoms to policies which support and respect the roles of artists and provide them with different platforms to express their opinions. This is crucial to meet the forthcoming status quo.

Artists and institutions must work hand in hand and commence from well-established administrative and artistic structures with a clear cultural policy that supports the line of peace, coexistence and existing diversity.

Although the situation appears bleak, both artists and intellectuals must strive for transformation and achieve a kind of serenity and rapport. Only Arts have the enchanting power to condemn the darkened ugliness of the past and foresee a cheerful radiant future.