The Popular Art and Poetry of Sudanese Protesters

Popular art and poetry from the ongoing protests in Sudan:

By Lemya Shammat

The current revolution in Sudan has been changing the cultural landscape; the canvas of the uprising is constantly painted with daily experiences, feelings, and challenges. Poems, songs, passionate speeches, paintings, and caricatures have been produced to inspire, enlighten, and share energy. Some of them are gripping, expressive, and artful. Others might appear plain, yet a second glance reveals their deceptive simplicity and their ability to portray the current domestic political drama, and the revolt of people that continues to loudly call upon the power-crazed, saying that payback time is overdue.

Various groups of creatives, composed mostly of independent-minded democrats inside the country and in the far flung corners of the world, have selflessly come together to work collectively to both confront the storm of misinformation spread by government-aligned media, and to be at the core of the moment, creating its truest artistic expressions. Words, melodies, colors, and brushstrokes send their shared message in the face of escalating crises and life-altering consequences to confirm that there will be no doubt, fear or exhaustion even in the toughest times of danger and pain.

Engrossing artistic productions prove that art does not exist in isolation, and that it can affectively uncover the wrongdoings of the corrupt and criminal government, enlighten people, stimulate the gatherings, and express the urgent demands of the seismically active streets of the various cities and towns of Sudan. There, paintings are employed as signs that call for liberty, peace, and fairness, and poems and songs are used as slogans and rallying cries. Demonstrators’ loud cheers and chants are coined from some revolutionary patriotic poems, such as the powerful daily protest: A bullet doesn’t kill, what really kills is the silence of the oppressed.

Where reality has unquestionably surpassed fiction, groups of intellectuals, writers, journalists, reporters, activists, and artists are battling on almost all fronts to heap up more media and public pressure to help save the demonstrators and spur further global action. They continue to work together in stubborn dedication while enjoying the spirit of camaraderie and the rewarding and fulfilling experience of creatively documenting this crucial chapter in Sudanese history. They aim to usher in a new era of freedom and fairness, despite the shockingly repressive and regressive reaction of the rotten regime, which continues to use excessive violence in battling the wave of civil unrest.

Violence, heavy-handedness, and life-threatening actions are inflicted on activists, campaigners, artists, writers, and other civic forces who suffer in an environment hostile to civil liberties. Arbitrary imprisonment, detention, and disappearance of demonstrators, writers, journalists and reporters like Faisal Mohammed Salih, Saad Ad-deen Hassan and Ahmed Ar-rohied have been reported on different social media platforms. Journalist Mohammed Abd-almajid was detained, and reporter, filmmaker, and photographer Al-Tayeb Siddig was shot with a rubber bullet.

Poet Mohammed Taha al-Gadal has also been imprisoned, as has poet-activist Jafar Khidir, who was demonstrating from his wheelchair.

They aim to express and uncover the chaotic and dangerous situations in Sudan, where the tightest security clampdowns, military siege, and armed blockade seen in decades are cordoning the streets, and where heavy stocks of live ammunitions are daily emptied on the bodies of the peaceful demonstrators, as masked snipers, who target heads and hearts, are given clear commands to shoot to kill.

Voices calling for justice, reform, and change are not just heard in the lack of global media coverage and global outcry over Sudanese revolution. Instead, they are being brutally silenced. A folk poem addresses the world, asking:

Tens of Khashoggis are publicly slaughtered in my country—

So why does the world turn a blind eye?

Is my death any different from his? Why?

Why doesn’t it attract daily mention

Or is it not bloody enough to call their attention? 

Fountains of blood gush in the streets and young peaceful demonstrators march into the gunfire of venal armed militias to demand their basic human rights. This is captured in poems, songs, and paintings. Politically-themed creative output continues to grasp and vividly portray the moment of the here and now.

Essayist, short-story writer, and critic Lemya Shammat has a PhD in English Language and Linguistics from Khartoum University and is an Assistant Professor at King Saud Bin Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A member of the Sudanese Writers Union, Shammat has published a book on literary criticism and discourse analysis as well as a collection of short-short stories. She also translates between English and Arabic.