2 April 2019

Sudan: Graffiti Artist Honors Anti-Government Protest Victims

As Sudan's government seeks to quell months of anti-government protests that have left more than 50 people dead, a Sudanese graffiti artist is painting portraits of deceased demonstrators.

Sudanese graffiti artist Assil Diab lives in Qatar but earlier this year returned to the country of her birth.

Diab came to honor protesters who were killed in Sudan's months-long anti-government demonstrations.

"Initially I wanted to participate in the protests in Sudan," Diab said. "It took a long time for me to convince my parents to come to Sudan and participate in the revolution. And, once I got here, I heard a lot of stories about the martyrs. It was very emotional, and I just had to do something about it."

Diab began visiting families of protesters who were killed and painting their portraits as a memorial on the walls of the buildings where they once lived.

Relatives warmly welcomed Diab into their homes.

Abubakr Omer's 24-year-old son, Abdulazeem, was killed in January, allegedly shot by police during a protest.

He says Diab's painting has renewed the memory of Abdualazeem's becoming a martyr. Whenever he sees the painting, adds Omer, he feels like Abdulazeem is still here with them.

Diab also paints those killed in earlier protest clashes - such as Adiyla Mustafa's son, Musab, who was shot at age 26 during 2013 protests.

She says that when the painting was made, she wasn't there. When she saw it for the first time, she was surprised. It's a painful memory for her, says Mustafa.

At least 50 people have been killed in Sudan since protests broke out in late December over price hikes and shortages.

The demonstrations quickly morphed into calls for President Omar al-Bashir to leave power.

A pioneer of Sudan's modern art, Rashid Diab -- no relation -- says Assil Diab's work is empowering the protest movement.

He says that freedom of expression in painting is very important. It gives actual value to the revolutionary act, says Diab. It fuels the revolutionary act, increases its power, flame, and importance, he says. It creates the pillars of a future, civilized presence.

Diab's portraits of protest victims can be found in Khartoum and in Omdurman and Bahri, Sudan's other major cities.

At the street level, Diab says her graffiti spurs discussion about how unarmed protesters became casualties.

"And once I start painting in the street, people as well, the audience, they stop and ask," Diab said. "It connects me with the families and the families with the public and there's an immediate connection between everyone that walks past the art work."

As Diab prepared to leave Sudan this month, she visited the families of the victims and gave some of the portraits a touch up.

Diab says she hopes that on her next visit to Sudan, there will be fewer portraits for her to paint.


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