sudan

featured culturalist: dalia elhassan

Dalia is a poet and friend that I admire and respect simultaneously. She has been recently shortlisted for the African Poetry Prize 2018 and a recipient of the Hajja Razia Sharif Sheikh Prize for Non-fiction. She is fiercely talented and passionate particularly towards issues of social justice which she often addresses in her writing. She's our Featured Culturalist for this month's issue of follow the halo. Below is our interview with her

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Dalia Elhassan and I’m a poet and writer based in NYC. I was born in Sudan and spent my childhood growing up in various pockets of Miami, FL I’m primarily interested in the function of language and how it can serve as a way to account for my experiences and the way I move through the world with all my various identities. Mostly, I’m interested in celebrating the experiences, the spaces and the places that made me who I am. I’m also a part-time (sometimes full-time) Beyoncé enthusiast.

How did you get into writing poetry? 

I really owe a lot of my introduction to writing (and eventually poetry) to my mother. Growing up the daughter of two Sudanese immigrants in the US, my parents were insistent on us having as much access to education as possible with whatever resources were available. I have really warm, vivid memories of taking long bus rides with my mama to public libraries and checking out anywhere from 14-27 books every week and going home to read as many of them as we could together. As a child, I buried myself in language. The only way I knew to understand the world was through words. My love for reading extended into my love for writing.

I wrote my first poem when I was eleven or twelve years old and because I was so young, I can’t often remember how or why I fell in love with poetry. All I knew was, at the time, I stumbled upon something that made me feel alive and affirmed and sustained a voice in me. I grew obsessed with Def Jam Poetry and would re-watch so many of the performances for hours on end just so I could hear the kind of metaphors they used and try to emulate that in my own writing.

What would you say influences or inspires the themes in your writing?

There’s this John Berger quote I stumbled upon recently that goes, “Never again shall a single story be told as though it were the only one,” and in so many ways, this feels true about the way I conceptualise my work, what its influenced by, and the themes present not just in the writing, but in me. I’m not interested in having my story told for me. I’m not interested or invested in the idea of a single one-size fits all narrative that gets applied to women of Color, to Black women, writers or creatives who are creating work (and complicating) the idea of ‘home’ or the diaspora they belong to.

Before this past year, I didn’t write a single poem for three or four years. As hard as I tried, I felt blanketed in this silence that, to this day, I haven’t quite worked out a name for. In those years of silence, there were two poets whose work I returned to ritually: Warsan Shire and Safia Elhillo. Their writing inspired and permitted me to write about what was familiar, recognisable, difficult, and vulnerable to me, and I drew so much power from that.

So, how does your heritage play a role in who you are as a as a writer?

It is everything. I don’t think there’s a way to understand me, as a person or a poet, without really taking a look at the places and spaces that have made me, without understanding the connection I have to my culture and my people. As an adult now, I am extremely proud to be a Sudaniya and really nurture this inexplicable connection I feel to all things Sudani. But it wasn’t till I was a little older that I realized how much I really struggled with these complex feelings of fragmentation and distance growing up. I didn’t have the words or the language to address the kind of shame that wound up in my childhood body. That shame came and formed from a place where I learned and believed a fiction about myself as an individual and a fiction about my people collectively; that we were either one thing or another (the binary & cliche Are We Arab? Or Are We African? debate). It was hard being young and Sudanese in non-Sudanese contexts and constantly feeling like I had to explain or justify what I was. The language I know now, the one I write in, is one I use to affirm and celebrate my identity and I’m grateful for the gift that is poetry because it gives me the room to reflect on the world/reflect the world I exist in with so much pride.

What's next for you?

I want to continue to grow as a writer and improve on my craft. Writing, growing into a poet, it feels like something that chose me long before I chose it. I’ve always carried this quiet, long felt belief that I was destined for greatness not because of anything superficial, but because I am a result of the resilience, hope, and faith of my mother, her mother, my father, and the people that came before me, who had to be so I could be. I want to keep turning inward and honor the me that exists because of them, honor the depth and resilience of the people that made me, and honor the newfound language I have to express all this.

Dalia currently resides in New York City and attends The New School. For more about her and her work you can follow her on Instagram/Twitter @daliaelhassan

daily inspiration: photographer abbas habiballa

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I stumbled upon Sudanese photographer Abbas Habiballa's work while scouring the internet for more resources about Sudan (I have an article currently under construction and looking for references). I love finding the work of photographers who lived before our digitalized age because it shows the true extent of their talent - no easy digital equipment to make everything look good. It takes true artistry. 

From what I gather Habiballa was born in the 1950s and pursued photography in the 60s and 70s, during the era of Sudan's post-independence, post-modern aesthetics. He took everyday photos around his neighbourhood and hometown. Sometimes you just need plain old raw artistry to shake and move you. 

I love this photojournal of his work. 

update: i'm back from sudan

I got back from Khartoum last week and I am having major withdrawals. I miss the busy-ness of Khartoum, the traffic, the heat, the noises and the crowded streets. I miss the smell of Sudanese incense (which is overpowering in some parts of the city). I miss how lovely everyone is - so kind, graceful and appreciative of a good joke. But most of all I miss how I did not have a care in the world when I was there. Life is so simple in Sudan. 

In any case, photos from my trip are now up. It only took a week. Also, a bunch of Sudan articles and travel writing is coming. I'm trying to make them all happen before the end of this month. I promised myself that this time I would pace myself and not rush - I usually put so much pressure on myself I actually start to lose the plot. 

Anyway, hope y'all enjoy my photos. Much love. 

Darah xx

update: i'm in sudan

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Khartoum is just next level. I never expected to be so *surprised* at life in Sudan, yet here I am re-evaluating everything I know about this country. It's full of mixtures, fusions and beautiful contradictions. Everything is so diverse from the food to the dialects spoken. I think the theme of this trip is that Sudan is "diversely diverse". 

Khartoum is nothing like I expected and more. Unfortunately due to lack of access to the internet as well as not having my laptop charger with me, I won't be able to update my blog regularly like I planned to. Although I do promise that there will be posts once I'm back as well as something published here or there. 

In the meantime you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter to get updates on my time here.

Love, Darah xx

travel: what I am intellectually "packing" for sudan

artwork by Sudanese visual artist Abdallah Abbas 

As I welcome the new year today, I am bursting with excitement. I fly out to Khartoum, Sudan tonight and I cannot be more emotional. It's funny how you can have a longing for a place you've never been  - I think that word is "hiraeth" - and feel frenzied at the idea of meeting it finally. I can't wait to capture Africa's most hospitable capital at last. 

My connection to Sudan began after meeting my best friends Ahmed and Salah at University. They spoke so proudly of Sudan, always excited to go back, often making social commentary about Sudanese society over coffee and cigarettes. Fast forward 5 years, and I've become under the influence. I've soaked up everything I could from friends, the internet, from exhibitions, galleries, Sudanese creatives in the UAE and so on. I'm in awe of its people, its food, its arts, its culture.

Sudan reminds me of my own Palestinian roots in so many ways, and yet is so different. I am particularly intrigued by Sudan's Arabness/Africanness - to what extent is Sudan "Arab" or "African" - a question I continue to ask Sudanese friends and loved ones. I ask not because the answer matters, but because I just love hearing the processes of explaining what is "African" and what is "Arab". The conclusion I've come to is that Sudan is the epitome of cultural fusion, a testament to the influence of Africa on the Arab world and vice versa. 

In any case, I digress. Today's post is the daily inspiration, so I'm sharing what I am "packing" intellectually before my trip to Khartoum (in true anti-travel blogger fashion): 

Books

One of the most influential works of literature in contemporary history is the novel "Season of Migration to the North" by Sudanese novelist and thinker Tayeb Salih. My reading of this book is long overdue, and I can't wait to delve right in.  Check out this fantastic review of the book by The Independent. 

Music

Sudanese people are notorious for loving music and dance. As I prepare myself for my flight, I am listening to Sammany Hajo. Sammany is a young Sudanese producer and musician who's known for sampling traditional Sudanese music with modern sounds. You'll definitely find his music in the background of my insta-stories this week. 

 

Art

Sudan was once renowned for its arts and culture scene. Unfortunately, due to international sanctions it has become increasingly isolated which has affected the creative community's visibility. Thanks to the internet, however, I've come across some incredible Sudanese artists. I personally admire the work of  Dar Al Naim @daralnaimart, Abdallah Abbas @abdallah_abbas, Alaa Satir @alaasatir, and Rayan Nasir @popkhartoum. They all touch on Sudanese life and culture in a way, and tell stories of home. Their works are below: 

Other things I am packing are my trusty Fujifilm X-T2 and Sony a5000, and a heart full of "hiraeth". Can't wait to share more when I get there. 

Dar Al Naim: this month's featured artist

The first time I came across Dar Al Naim's work was on Instagram. I was instantly taken away by her use of color and form and quickly wanted to know more about who she was. Dar is a multi-media artist and illustrator from Sudan. Each piece she creates takes from her Sudanese roots, and is fused with color, often questioning the universe and our place in it. Her work is light-hearted yet thought-provoking - inspirational to no end. 

I commissioned the above artwork from Dar for this month's issue of follow the halo. The piece, titled "Halo", uses acrylic, ink, collage, and felt-tip (mixed-media). Dar was inspired by the title of the newsletter for the creation of this work, and explains in her own words: 

"My Sudanese culture has everything to do with my work when it comes to visuals. I use Sudanese inspired colors and symbols in most of my pieces. The simple fact of being Sudanese is what makes my work different from my fellow European colleagues. The use of color is by far the most obvious bit, but also my direct reference to my country touching on all topics affecting it can be seen in my work."

Dar also says that her work is inspired by the vastness of the universe, and how human interaction is shaped by it. She explains: 

"We are all alone with the universe, we should be happy to be here and appreciate the vast and wonderful world around us. I tend to work a lot with the universe in mind. As a way of expression, it portrays the multiple aspects of human interaction. The stars the sky the planets the size of it all, the scale of our being and our knowledge. The idea of being in space but looking at it from far is very interesting to me. The distances we create to make sense of it all."

Dar Al Naim resides in Ibiza (Spain)  and is an obsessive list maker. You can follow her artwork and travels on @daralnaimart on Instagram. 

The above images (other than the one comissioned) are part of Dar's work and were used with her permission.