Arts + Culture
'The Bread Loaf' by AbdulRahman Alnazeer.

How Sudanese Art Is Fueling the Revolution

Young artists are using their work to voice the frustrations of the masses in a country yearning for political reform.

In 2012, I attended the launch of world-renowned Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi's autobiography, 'A Fistful of Sand', in Khartoum. During the Q&A; session, a man raised his hand to address El-Salahi. "While we appreciate your contribution Mr. El-Salahi, I fail to see the importance or influence of art in society."

Thirty years under the rule of Omar Al-Bashir and his self-dubbed "Savior" regime have led to acute brain drain in every discipline, and a complete disintegration of the arts.

So that man's dismissive attitude comes as no surprise; more so than proof of the violent repression in which the Sudanese people live, it is the natural result of three decades of economic hardship and impoverishment. As one friend put it, "Art was one of the casualties [of this regime] - who has the time for 'silly things' like creative expression and self-actualization when you're worried about your next meal?"

But creative expression is an inextricable part of the Sudanese personality and deeply rooted in the culture and folklore. From the ever-popular twentieth century resistance poetry of Mahjoub Sharif and Hummeid to the political songs of Mostafa Sid Ahmed and Iqd Elgalad, it is reflex. In the absence of freedom, art—in all its forms—has persisted as a means for those in Sudan to loudly say what can only be whispered. And for the diaspora, it is the tapestry we weave, each thread connecting us to home.

Over the last few years, the country has been living, arguably, the darkest period in its modern history. In December 2017, Sudanese across the globe watched in disbelief as the government rolled out its plans for the 2018 national budget, revealing that the vast majority of funds were earmarked for "defense and security" (most of which were poured into the NISS, the national intelligence agency and main apparatus for oppression), while a mere 3 percent of the budget was set aside for education, and a shameful 2 percent for healthcare.

Mired in one catastrophe after the next, 2018 proved to be the disaster many feared it would; Sudan was in a freefall—one that was intimately and poignantly reflected by Sudanese creatives.

"The art of this movement forces us to acknowledge the reality: this is not just a 'bread protest', it is a battle for freedom."

After the removal of government subsidies on bread, digital artist AbdulRahman Alnazeer released "The Bread Loaf", a clever adaptation of Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam", in which Adam holds a loaf of bread as he reaches for God, superimposed on an iconic Sudanese backdrop of a crowded bus depot. From growing poverty and homelessness to the worsening public transportation issues, AbdulRahman Alnazeer's tableau succinctly and powerfully displays many of the issues faced by citizens in Khartoum during this time.

By mid 2018, Sudan's inflation rate had skyrocketed to almost 62 percent, doubling from the previous year. In rapid fire succession, one calamity after another hit: 19-year-old Noura Hussein was sentenced to death for killing the husband who raped her and to whom she was married three years earlier by force, causing international outrage and plunging the nation once more into a debate on the legality of child marriage and marital rape in Sudan. On the eastern front, the Chikungunya outbreak went unchecked, affecting more than 11,000 people in a single month. The crisis was compounded greatly by the now routine ill-preparedness of local and national government for the rain and flooding season, which also resulted in the deaths of 25 children in the span of two weeks.

From the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea, cartoonist Abu'Obayda Mohamed created heart-wrenching pieces that captured this painful reality. "Art is not always about pretty things; [it] is about who we are, [it] is the reflection of what is happening in our lives and how it affects our lives", he says.

Mohamed's viral pieces center the map of Sudan, a move that serves as a stark and unrelenting reminder that these are not isolated local issues, but rather illustrative of the general state of the country.

Then, on December 9, Abu'Obayda released "Cry of Home", a piece that, just ten days later, would prove to be prophetic.

On December 19, 2018, high school students in the city of Atbara in northeastern Sudan took to the streets after discovering that their school lunch prices had doubled overnight.

These young men's courage was the spark the people needed. Their anger flung open the floodgates, releasing a wave of rage that rolled through the country all the way to the capital, sweeping up men, women and children in its wake.

Off the streets and online, the protest wave triggered a surge of creative activity. For artists like Enas Satir, the pieces they created were a way to process the events that were unfolding.

"Art has been both 'healing' and energizing," says Satir. "When the protests broke out I was overwhelmed with anxiety—being away from Sudan in times like these when people are being killed and tortured and you're an ocean away, engulfs you with helplessness combined with a strange feeling of guilt."

"Cry of Home" by Abu'Obayda Mohamed.

But Satir also felt a responsibility. "The media, especially in the beginning, [was] absent and furiously inaccurate in reporting the protests. This situation made me realize that […] when the media stepped down, we had to step up."

She then created the series, "Keizan and Why They Are Bad For You", a collection that at once provides historical context and poignant commentary on the impact of this 'Keizan'-led dictatorship over the last 30 years. No piece demonstrates that as vividly as this one, in which Sudan's deterioration is personified. In the caption, Satir writes, "If Sudan was a person it would, by now, be gravely ill."

The artists of this movement have "risen to the occasion", as Satir states, occupying the role of documentarians and record-keepers of the revolution. Pieces by graphic designer Swar and artist Tibyan Albasha have memorialized iconic moments in the movement, while graffiti artist Assil Diab's murals have immortalized some of the young men who have lost their lives at the hands of the regime, and serve as a wakeup call to those on the ground who are still on the fence.

This popular uprising has triggered a social, political and cultural awakening - and in many ways, the art birthed from this movement has been working in tandem with it, challenging many of the same political and societal notions being addressed on the street.

Alaa Satir's piece "Thawrat Mara" translates to "woman's revolution", and addresses the misogyny rampant in Sudanese society at large, and rearing its ugly head in the revolutionary movement. In specific, it is a scathing critique of a chant used during the early protests that referred to the President derogatorily as "the son of a woman."

Thawrat Mara by Alaa Satir

In the accompanying caption, Alaa explains, "The word [mara] meaning woman, along with many words linked to womanhood have been used as slurs to indicate negative traits like weakness […] while [rajil or rajala] meaning man or manhood is here to do the opposite. While we are in the quest for freedom, let's just pay attention to our internalized misogyny.. and keep it away from our chants."

Artistic expression has proven to be an intrinsic part of this uprising, assuming a multipurpose role in it. Across the world, Sudanese people are wielding poetry like weaponry, chanting in rhyming couplets for freedom. Online and off, art has been sketched, drawn and spray-painted to document, educate and motivate.

But no medium has fulfilled this multipurpose role quite like music.

"I came across many tweets that encouraged artists to participate, but […] I did not feel like making music was a real contribution to the cause," says Qatar-based producer Sammany Hajo. "I had a conversation with [a Twitter user who] helped me see the importance of art in revolutions and how it can be used to document and encourage at the same time. 5 days later I released 'Sudan Revolts'.

The track is a seamless mélange of samples from the movement, combining the sounds of protest chants, revolutionary songs and other soundbites to a beat of Hajo's creation. "After releasing 'Sudan Revolts', I received a lot of messages from people who were taking part in the protests, telling me that my music helps them get through the day or even motivate them to go out again and keep fighting."

He's not the only one. UAE-based rapper OSMAN's song, "Farig" (leave) starts with a protest soundbite, and then a call by the artist: "Get up and see about your country/it's chaos/the people have taken to the streets".

OSMAN says that artists have "the biggest and most important role in the army of freedom", a sentiment that many artists who have contributed to the movement seem to share.

The art of this movement forces us to acknowledge the reality: this is not just a 'bread protest', it is a battle for freedom. As Enas Satir puts it, "the power that art has, whether it be an illustration or otherwise, has a huge impact on people. Our role is to create art that cannot be ignored."


This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

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CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!


Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

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