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