What can artists, activists, intellectuals, and documentarians do in a time of war? Whose voice can we look to to show us the way, when what we see, hear and experience (certainly in the Global North) is fraught with dispute, discourse, discrimination, and doom-scrolling? Individuals and communities caught up in real-time, in any conflict, are often rendered voiceless or ignored (once again by the Global North) all the while facing existential crises and anxieties unfathomable to many. People looking relatively comfortably from afar while trying to make sense of or call out the depredations of war are often told to look elsewhere, attacked, or silenced, as we’ve seen in the past few months against the backdrop of a devastating violence in the Middle East conflict and other conflicts.
For this issue, we look at a conflict receiving little international coverage, and to a diaspora uniquely placed to speak about its impact on their lives. War erupted in Sudan on 15 April 2023 and at least 6.4 million people, out of a pre-war population of roughly 46 million individuals, are now forcibly displaced. The war’s impact, while still ongoing, is likely to profoundly reshape the country, surrounding region, and the world in both foreseeable and unexpected ways for some time to come. This issue consequently gathers a small group of thinkers, activists, artists, and people from other walks of life, often Sudanese, but not exclusively, to showcase together their hopes and DREAM’s. As their stories within these pages attest, it is through the strength and resilience of ideas and art that will help us collectively remake our world for the better.
This being Boy.Brother.Friend, the community within these pages significantly falls outside of the narrow depictions of wherever the boundaries of Africa and the Middle East are drawn, both of which sometimes include Sudan. Contrary to popular narratives, there are feminist and queer Sudanese communities, which have of course created vibrant, and often defiant, spaces for themselves that intersect with thriving intellectual and artistic communities.
Much like the Sudanese diaspora, issue contributors are scattered within Sudan or have relocated to Cairo, Nairobi, London, and other parts of the world. These pages intentionally give contributors space to help make sense of the shared confusion that is war, and the unexpected ways Sudan is being remade. The accounts that are written would likely have taken a different arc had they been generated a few months from now; as such, the issue is divided according to thematic questions that largely surround and question the hazier elements of memory.
The first section is one of Déjà Vu. It opens with the dream-like images of pyramids that were constructed centuries before Sudan’s present boundaries were ever delineated, shot by the photographer Nichole Sobecki, prior to the conflict. The section then goes into a conversation with the artist Alvaro Barrington photographed by Tom H wearing Bottega Veneta by Matthieu Blazy, Alvaro explores how his own past traumas give an urgent need to showcase the humanity of the African-American experience, resonating with the issue’s broader theme. Alvaro is the next artist to create a Tate Britain commission installation, which we are very excited for. A retrospective of the photographer Kalpesh Lathigra’s images then remind readers of the disparate layered pasts that interconnect global struggles for self-determination and dignity. The section concludes with Eddie Ahmad’s Seasons of Migration to the North, which is a queer retelling of Tayeb Salih’s masterpiece of the same name. Ahmad’s version showcases the shocking consequences of hosting a fashion show in military-ruled Sudan, roughly 10 years ago, that subsequently forced him to leave the country and relocate to Norway.
A Real Thing continues the issue’s themes with a conversation between three leading Sudanese thinkers and artists, Kholood Khair, Raga Makawi, and Eiman Yousif. Kholood is one of the most astute observers of Sudanese politics today. Raga is a scholar and activist who has co-authored one of the most prominent books on the Sudanese revolutionary uprising and Eiman is the star of Goodbye Julia, the first Sudanese film to feature at the Cannes Film Festival. They were given an open brief to discuss whatever they wished. They quickly settled on the theme of ‘authenticity’ and their conversation weaved into questions relating to gender and the tyranny of identity politics, given that no identity is fixed. Nicole Chen then grapples with a visual representation of ‘realness’ through her photo-essay Attention Economy, which both skewers and celebrates the concept. The artist and activist Ahmed Umar furthers the section’s investigation in a photoshoot by Jacqueline Landvik in which Ahmed queers Sudanese traditional dress with his signature confidence and grace.
The third section, Existing in Memory embraces the titular theme with Rahiem Shadad’s gorgeous ruminative essay that connects the on-going experience of displacement with Hassan Kamil’s photographs. The piece’s title draws from a poem turned song, Between Wakefulness and Dreams that perfectly captures the sentiments echoing across the Sudanese diaspora now and features after Rahiem’s piece. Lakin Ogunbanwo’s photographic collage carries on the theme with an at times graphic and tongue-in-cheek intensity. Larissa-Diana Fuhrmann adds to the section by tracing the history of Sudan’s radical jazz tradition, which holds lessons for how this past might continue to shape the present and future in Sudan and beyond. Whereas Bayan Abubakr unpacks the complex ethical questions and indignities that emerged through her attempt to leave Sudan as the war broke out in her short story that Eve Wangui Gichuhi illustrates.
The section concludes with Nelson C J’s interview with the rising Igbo Afro-pop star Odumodublvck. Odumodubvck’s very exciting, unique, and confidently anti-establishment style of rapping brought him to the forefront of our attention earlier this year. Nelson’s probing essay touches on how the Nigerian Civil War created greater conservatism within Igbo culture. War has generated the familiar paradox of an artist who holds great potential but still engages in toxic performances of misogyny and homophobia. Rather than partake in cancel culture, which often entrenches difference and leave us coddled in our echo chambers, we engaged in a conversation with the artist. Odumodublvck is photographed by Lakin Ogunbanwo and styled by Kenneth Ize.
The issue’s final section is on Dreaming Community and suggests ways forward to embrace and reimagine community in a changing world. It opens with Jebi Labembika’s photographs Re-Interpreting Reverence, which unpacks the imagery of the thoub, the iconic dress that young Sudanese women had at a time abandoned, to then again adorn during the height of the country’s revolution. The images reinterpret a style of dress that is sometimes seen as the province of mothers and grandmothers into something vital that quite literally serves a new reality. The issue concludes with a photoshoot of the Sudanese community in Cairo, where many, often middle-class, Sudanese managed to find refuge as the war broke out. The intersectional community of artists, activists, and intellectuals cuts across boundaries of class, race, and allyship and showcases a burgeoning world of possibility. The shoot is appropriately entitled The Revolution Begins at Home.
This is perhaps one of the most delicate issues of Boy.Brother.Friend. We hope that the words and images in these pages will inspire and foreground the importance of a diverse community, even as violence and war threaten to fragment our world into recalcitrant differences. We need to imagine alternatives to war and this issue is one small step to centering heretofore unseen possibilities.
With love and thanks,
Dr Matthew Sterling Benson & Kk Obi