How art is flourishing in war-torn Nuba Mountains, Sudan

By Hajooj Kuka

Award-winning Sudanese filmmaker, Hajooj Kuka, explains how art and freedom of expression is flourishing in the war-torn South Kordofan area of Sudan. 

Our art is a rose growing within the rocks of a conflict that has ravaged Nuba for years.                                                  

The Kauda Drama Collective started off during the April 2015 Sudanese elections that were boycotted by most of the opposition parties. The elections were considered a joke because of a lack of political and media freedom, so a group of local creatives had the idea to create a puppet show to satirise them. Everyone on the show was acting for the first time and had fun. The result was Bisha TV, a total of 10 episodes that received over a million views on social media within a month. 

Image of an actor pulling strings of a puppet dressed as a military official. Image of an actor pulling strings of a puppet dressed as a military official.
A young actor works a military puppet. Credit Ganja Chokada

The collective now meets three times a week where they rehearse, sing and discuss ideas. A mobile cinema group shows films every Wednesday, and the group has also taken over an abandoned incomplete building with the aim of turning it into a theatre.

 A rare outlet for self-expression

Audiences spoke of how the art movement helps to heal communities after the trauma of war, and to spread positive messages. Having such an outlet for self-expression is rare in Sudan. Under the ruling National Congress Party, a film, book, article, or song could be considered a weapon which challenges the regime's ideology. Freedom of expression is fought by the government. Without this freedom, art is suffocated alongside the people’s creativity.

The stories created by the collective range from love dramas to comedies, and tackle social issues such as domestic violence and HIV awareness. And it’s not just art – the group has started football and volleyball teams and a public library is being built in a room inside the theatre space. Young people hang out in the unfinished theatre even on vacation days. Some have picked up on story structure and acting techniques. Self-criticism and practising the trade are parts of their everyday conversations.

A comical scene of actors during a rehearsal. A comical scene of actors during a rehearsal.
Youth in a scene rehearsal. Credit 3ayin

We need to be careful, though. For the New Year celebration, we organized a party in Kauda, the capital of the rebel-held areas. A few neighborhoods had set up small speakers, lights and seats outside their homes to join the celebrations.  We screened locally-made films, followed by a concert with dance music blaring out of large, loud speakers until the countdown to the New Year. But when we screened a documentary featuring the sounds of the Antonov, a Russian cargo plane used by the Sudanese government to drop cluster bombs, the residents panicked. People here are familiar with the sound of the Antonov, and naturally associate it with coming destruction. Thinking an attack was imminent, they ran to hide for safety.  

As the sound of the plane got louder, in panic they turned off the lights and started running for safety in the dark. In the confusion some fell, others got tangled in thorns, and ended up in fox holes or riverbeds where they normally hide when the Antonovs arrive. After 15 minutes of panic, those who were still hiding in their houses, realized it was a false alarm. We spent the next two weeks apologizing to them all.

People seated on the grass watching an outdoor film. People seated on the grass watching an outdoor film.
Residents of Kauda during a film screening. Ganja Chokada

What next?

As the war and negotiations go on, the Drama Collective goes on. The collective will shoot its first feature film; a comedy tackling the nuances of an armed revolution in a civil war that has lasted too long. This will be shot in the conflict zone, acted by people who have experienced the conflict first hand. The stage is their homes, and the stories are their lives. Our main message is that the hard-earned freedoms are too precious to give up, even if the war continues.  

Amnesty’s call to action

As the people of South Kordofan do their best to cope, do not look the other way. Take action: Join the South Kordofan youth in calling for an end to the violations of their rights and freedoms.  Send this message to the US representative to the UN and to the AU Peace and Security Council:

 

 

Background

For more than five years, the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) and Sudanese government forces have been fighting a conflict in which neither side has attained any significant military advantage but civilians continue to suffer immensely. The rainy season, together with a ceasefire announced in June, has caused a lull in fighting.During this brief respite, normal life slowly picked up with the growth of a vibrant civil society in the SPLA-N held areas, crowned by a thriving art movement - the Kauda Drama Collective.

Yet amidst the slow back-and-forth peace talks, the war continues. Between March and June 2016, the Sudanese government launched ground and aerial attacks dropping an estimated 227 bombs in these areas. Most of these indiscriminate attacks caused civilian casualties and destroyed homes, food stores and schools and displaced thousands of civilians from their homes.

Sudan: People's lives in South Kordofan do matter

Find out more about the conflict in South Kordofan