Sand in My Eyes: Insight into Sudan’s daily life

Friday 12/02/2016
The large golden zumam, a nose ring, underlines the beauty and status of this Kababish nomad woman in Al-Hamrat Al-Sheikh.

London - “My intention was to investigate the poetic rhythm of everyday life in an environment [as] people relate to crisis.”

With those words, photographer and author Eniko Nagy introduced her English-Arabic bilingual poetic picture book Sand in My Eyes: Suda­nese Moments, giving a rare insight into one of the largest countries in Africa, which is very little known.

Nagy, a former German devel­opment adviser, spent nine years in Sudan collecting everyday mo­ments through photography and recording or writing down the spo­ken word. She travelled 30,000km in some of the hardest-to-reach re­gions of the world and under harsh conditions, to compile her work.

Initially sent to North Kordofan state in central Sudan to help ex­pand civil society organisations, Nagy capitalised on the occasion to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the hidden treasures in remote ar­eas of Sudan.

“The picture I saw was in stark contrast to the common narrative about Sudan as another conflict-ridden African country where the people are poor and need help. I felt this paralysing narrative has seized a land from its people. A place that is expected to see itself as a failure and a mere recipient of help,” Nagy said

Instead of returning to Germany after finishing her job, Nagy dedi­cated more time to a country she learned to love. She encountered members of more than 45 tribes and ethnic groups and collected more than 26,000 photos and 2,500 piec­es of oral proverbs, legends, myths, poetry and songs.

“I set out to document moments through photography and spoken word in the day-to-day life of dif­ferent cultures in Sudan. To [have them] speak on behalf of their coun­try, their identity, their beauty and, beyond that, to reclaim the narra­tive for the people and their culture. I felt that if I had left without doing that, I would have not done justice to the place,” Nagy said.

The exhibition shows Sudan’s rich and varied cultural patterns, traditions, landscapes and daily rit­uals. It covers fundamental aspects of life in Sudan, including sense of freedom in nomadic life, sense of community, how people settle dis­putes, concepts of generosity and kindness, of masculinity and femi­ninity, homemaking, scarification, gait, dress, rituals, ceremonies, spiritual life and respect for elders.

“Their simple life, utter kindness and generosity reflect a particular life philosophy. I was fascinated by it. Encounters with people in tough living conditions, felt dignified, joy­ous and rich and were marked by sophisticated codes of conduct and respectful, artful communication. I felt it deserves to be seen in all its beauty,” Nagy explained.

Mansour Khalid, former minis­ter of Foreign Affairs of the repub­lic of Sudan in his foreword to the Sand in My Eyes said: “Ms Nagy was neither seeking economic reward nor academic distinction, though she deserves both for her excellent work. That selfless dedication to an unsolicited undertaking has proved that hers is a labour of love. Her suc­cess in knitting together over time and space a clear picture of Sudan’s diverse cultures, which were ei­ther concealed behind a morass of academic fraud or obscured by mis­reading or misunderstanding Suda­nese cultures.”

Nagy said that in asking what “Su­danese” is, she found herself ques­tioning “Who are we? What makes us who we are, as individuals and communities?”

“There is little public awareness of immaterial heritage,” Nagy con­tended. “Cultural heritage does not end with monuments and col­lections of objects. Habits, dress, adornment, scarification, ceremo­nies, beliefs, food and gait — every­thing speaks.”

Nagy says that nations reside in a “cultural territory”, where customs, superstitions, rituals, manners, be­liefs and experiences are shared and which is formed by the people who give it life and definition, rather than within lines on a map.

Her aim is to make this deeply human territory visible and to con­tribute to safeguarding it. In doing so, she seeks to pay tribute to the diversity of people and views in our world and to contribute to the pro­tection of the plurality of narratives of the one, same human experience.

On the difficulties she encoun­tered while compiling her work, Nagy said she had to learn to ma­noeuvre through Khartoum’s busi­ness world and with government officials, for fundraising and per­mits, in a language she didn’t speak initially.

“It took one and a half years to convince Sudanese companies to cover most of the costs of travel, production, printing and shipping of the book. It was a [hard] task to work on management and admin­istration, imports and shipment in a very challenging work environ­ment,” Nagy said.

In the book, traditional narra­tives — proverbs, legends, myths, poems, laments, ritual verses and anecdotes from all over Sudan — are arranged with the photos to cover a day in Sudan across its different cultures.

The London showing of the exhi­bition is co-presented by the Bru­nei Gallery, SOAS and the Embassy of the Republic of Sudan and is to tour to Germany, Austria, the Neth­erlands, Norway, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, the United States and Sudan.

Sand in My Eyes will be show­ing at the Brunei Gallery London through March 19th.