Sudan sit-in site inspires artistic expressions

The struggle for democracy in Sudan will be a long one and the artwork is an expression of the wounds from three decades of autocratic rule under Bashir.
Friday 17/05/2019
A mural is seen on a wall near the defence ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan, April 29. (Reuters)
A form of protest. A mural is seen on a wall near the defence ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan, April 29. (Reuters)

KHARTOUM - Sudanese artist Rashid Drar used to work from home but now the 44-year-old's canvas is any empty piece of wall he can find near a month-long sit-in outside the Sudanese Defence Ministry.

Drar said it is his way of "being part of the revolution," a protest movement that brought down Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on April 11 and is now pushing for the military council that replaced him to hand power to civilians.

"I draw for the Sudanese people. Art is something good, just as the revolution is," he says.

The wide street in front of the Defence Ministry where thousands have been protesting since April 6 has been transformed into a cultural hub ringed with makeshift tents.

Alongside fiery political speeches, crowds that have flocked to the area from across Sudan enjoy music recitals, dance shows, photography exhibitions, chess tournaments and book readings.

Most strikingly, the space has become an open-air exhibition of hundreds of wall paintings.

Amna Almahi, an out-of-work journalist, used much of her time since the start of the protests to make murals. She said the struggle for democracy in Sudan will be a long one and that the artwork is an expression of the wounds from three decades of autocratic rule under al-Bashir.

"The people of Sudan have suffered greatly under political oppression," she said. "Now they want freedom, equality and democracy. The political content of these wall paintings is exactly an expression of these demands."

Protesters and activists have been negotiating with Sudan's Transitional Military Council on forming a joint civilian-military body to oversee the country until elections but the parties are deadlocked over who would control the transition.

Alaa Khojaly and her friends are conducting art, reading, writing and music classes in a tent school they set up for street children.

"Democracy does not mean only freedom. If it comes, we believe we will have a higher grade of education, better health care," Khojaly said.

"These children are not receiving education and health care. So, instead of letting them run loose among the protesters every day, we are trying to provide enjoyable and educational activities for them in our tent."

Sudan has been beset by a crippling economic crisis that triggered the protests against al-Bashir in December and continues to cause hardship for ordinary citizens. Activists and opposition groups suspect that the military is reluctant to cede power.

Hope for a better future is sustaining the peaceful protest movement through its fifth month, said Alfarazdeg Abdallah, who has art classes in another tent in the sit-in area.

"The Sudanese are keeping alive their hopes for democracy," he said. "True democracy will mean a better country in every way."

(Reuters)