The multi-ethnic composition of the Sudanese population results in an extraordinarily high level of cultural diversity. Each of the many ethnic groups has its own cultural expressions in language, religion, customs and social relationships. These play an important role in everyday life as well as in religious life and can be found, for example, in architecture and in everyday culture with their traditional handicrafts, such as ceramic and wickerwork or the production of traditional swords in the east of the country.
The more politically motivated question about the Sudanese cultural identity has not been answered even after the secession of South Sudan. Whether one calls oneself an Arab, Afro-Arab or African is the subject of many discussions, which illustrate the turmoil of the Sudanese identity and whose arguments are also attempted to pursue cultural and historical considerations.
Sudan: Divided Identity, Divided Land
On the occasion of the separation of South Sudan, this three-part documentary illustrates the Afro-Arab identity crisis in Sudan (part 1: 14:50 min., Part 2: 13:20 min., Part 3: 5:11 min).
Early evidence of Sudanese culture is present with the archaeological sites of Meroë and Napata, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are shown in various museums outside of Sudan, in Khartoum or in the country’s few small museums. The Sudanese National Museum has an important collection of exhibits from all eras of Sudan’s cultural history. The frescoes from the Christian era of royalty are unique. This most important Sudanese museum has its doors for urgent renovation work Closed until the beginning of 2022.
According to internetsailors, the internationally best-known Sudanese representatives of painting are all supporters of the famous “Khartoum School”, an artist movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s that combined Sudanese traditions with Islamic and Western content. A characteristic of this is the inclusion of Arabic calligraphies with religious content as ornaments in pictorial representations.
Leading this movement were the now well-known Sudanese painter Ibrahim El-Salahi, who now lives in Great Britain, who then embodied an African surrealism in a later phase with his evocative images, which received much international attention, and Ahmed Shibrainwho also became dean of the College of Fine & Applied Art at the Sudan University of Science and Technology in Khartoum. To this day, this is the only faculty of its kind at over 40 universities in the country. With this ongoing artistic educational emergency – there are also no lessons in art in the general schools – the hopes of a new beginning in 2005, when Khartoum was the cultural capital of the Arab world, were shattered. The events of the Capital of Culture at that time were primarily planned by Rashid Diab, another representative of the “Khartoum School”, who has set up his own art center in Khartoum. Diab also gives space to other artists herewho work in galleries that are only sparsely available and then run on their own initiative without state infrastructure, but under self-censorship and censorship.
Ibrahim El-Salahi – Studio visit (4:50 min., English)
On the occasion of an exhibition in London’s “Tate modern” in the summer of 2013, Ibrahim El-Salahi explains his work.
The long tradition of Sudanese cartoonists is being continued by the internationally acclaimed Khalid Albaih, a political cartoonist who has caused a sensation with his publications since the beginning of the Arab Spring. His caricatures were exhibited under the name Khartoon, a play on words that is reminiscent of his hometown but is composed of his first name and the term “cartoon”, among others in London and at the beginning of 2015 in Berlin.
Khalid Albaih lives in Qatar and mainly uses social media to distribute his caricatures.
The golden days of Sudanese film were in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and are inextricably linked to the old master of Sudanese filmmakers Gadalla Gubara as one of the pioneers of African cinema. Gubara shot Song of Khartoum, a short film about his hometown and its nightlife, the first African color film in 1955, held the camera at the independence celebration in 1956 and made a total of 31 documentaries and four feature films by his death in 2008. Among them is the film adaptation of the country’s first novel “Tajuj ” (1982), Sudan’s answer to Romeo and Juliet. Together with Ousmane Sembène and others, he founded the Pan-African Film Festival in Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in 1969.
By promoting the cultural preservation program of the Foreign Office could cinematic estate Gubaras digitized in Berlin in 2013 and thus saved from progressive material decay.
Sudan’s Forgotten Films – Witness (24:53 min)
Video on the work in the Sudanese national film archive
With the increasing restrictions on media freedom since Al-Bashir came to power in 1989, domestic operations in the Sudanese film industry have come to a standstill. Many filmmakers have given up their jobs or have moved abroad. Censorship, coupled with the increased use of television and the Internet and the country’s economic decline, have also made cinema companies unprofitable. Of the once 14 cinemas in Khartoum, only one is now operating. The Colosseum, which opened in 1935, is also closed and the building is now part of the police headquarters.
While only a few low-budget short films and a few documentaries have been made in the recent past, mostly with foreign help, Sudanese film is experiencing a revival 20 years later. Taghreed El-Sanhouri, who mostly lives in England, continues the great tradition of Sudanese documentary films and, after her internationally successful films about the Darfur conflict and refugee children, made a film about the division of the country in 2011 with Our beloved Sudan. With Faisal Goes West, Bentley Brown made an award-winning independent film on migration and cultural identity in 2012, which was also the starting film of the Sudan Independent Film Festival (SIFF) in Khartoum, which was held for the first time in 2014.This festival, in 2014 in honor of the painter and filmmaker of the 1970’s, Hussein Shariffe, arose from a training project of the Goethe Institute in Khartoum for the training and further education of Sudanese filmmakers. In the absence of a Sudanese contemporary cinema and a non-existent film industry, this project contributes significantly to the creation of a new Sudanese film ‘made in Sudan’. The organization “Swiss Initiative – Culture Projects Sudan” is also trying to revitalize the Sudanese cinema landscape with its “Open Cinema” project in cooperation with UNESCO.