sudanese art

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

abbas_habiballa_photography.jpg

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. 

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.