Creative disruption: How Sudanese protesters have used art to sustain demos

By Ahmed Elzobier, Sudan Researcher, Amnesty International

The protests in Sudan are in their third month now. The government’s response has been brutal with many protesters killed, and many others arrested, tortured or ill-treated in detention. People’s homes have been raided, patients in hospitals attacked with tear gas and live ammunition, among them children and the elderly. But the people have remained resolute in exercising their right to freedom of assembly.

Thousands of people have turned out to protest in different cities and villages every day. While the protests which began on 19 December 2018 were sparked by the deterioration of the living conditions due to fuel shortages, high food prices, and a lack of cash in banks, the protesters’ demand soon changed into demands for a change in the how the country was governed and calls for an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s almost thirty years in power.

The steering organization have been led by the Sudanese Professionals Association - a coalition of professional groups bring together teachers, lawyers, medical doctors, and pharmacists among others. But how have the protests been sustained for so long in spite of state brutality? While the SPA’s leadership has been useful, it is the way the Sudanese people have integrated the protests in the everyday living that has been pivotal.

Slogan inspired by conversation between two lovers

 “-good morning my love, the government has blocked the internet

-a government that deprives us of each other must fall”

A screenshot of a telephone conversation in Arabic between two lovers. The writing says “-good morning my love, the government has blocked the internet"
"-a government that deprives us of each other must fall” A screenshot of a telephone conversation in Arabic between two lovers. The writing says “-good morning my love, the government has blocked the internet"
"-a government that deprives us of each other must fall”
A screenshot of conversation between two lovers when the government blocked the internet which prevented them from communicating with each other. ©Private

There have been many reactive slogans developed in the past two months. For example, after 47 students from Darfur  were detained and another one of them killed amid claims that they were affiliated to a rebel group and were trying to cause chaos and incite violence, the protesters responded with the slogan: “you are arrogant and racist, we are all Darfur”.

Another slogan was coined after Former Vice President Ali Osman Taha in TV interview spoke of a shadow militia ready to protect the regime, the protesters response was: “We won’t give up or get bored…we are not terrified of the shadow militia”. These bold slogans have encouraged many to continue protesting.

Music and Art

Different forms of music and poetry have been significant features of these protests too. Also, mostly young men and women artists have produced different visual materials including graphics and paintings. The protesters now have their own online radio while the Sudanese Professionals Association has an android phone application. Interviews with some of the designers have been featured in 500words Magazine.

Beside the music produced and shared on social media, and the online radio, the protesters and supporters are expressing themselves through music. The SPA organized sit-ins provide a platform for theatre, musicians, and for poetry. The slogans have been translated into sign language on Facebook videos. This inspired one protest by deaf school pupils who used sign language to communicate their demands.

A man standing in a crowd wearing a t-shirt with writing on it.  The writing on the shirt in Arabic reads: 'I am a pacifist demonstrator'. A man standing in a crowd wearing a t-shirt with writing on it.  The writing on the shirt in Arabic reads: 'I am a pacifist demonstrator'.
The writing on the shirt in Arabic reads: 'I am a pacifist demonstrator'. ©AFP/Getty Images

The protesters’ demands and slogans are slowly moving into the popular culture including women’s fashion, and weddings songs. Popular musicians have been filmed at weddings and private parties voicing the slogans and the slogan Tasqut Bas has seen emblazoned on women traditional robes.

Whether the Sudanese government will end the crackdown is something time will tell, but the creativity of the protesters is undeniable.

For months now, protesters in Sudan have bravely endured a brutal government crackdown to continue demanding their rights. Don’t look the other way. Take action. Call on the Government of Sudan to end its violent repression of protests.