Protests erupted in the capital Khartoum in January 2018 as prices on basic goods like gasoline and bread skyrocketed after the Sudanese government devalued the local currency and removed wheat and electricity subsidies. Over the next year, the deteriorating economy and soaring costs of living sparked more demonstrations.
By December 2018, young men and women were demanding major economic and political reforms and calling for President Omar al-Bashir, its autocratic ruler for 30 years, to step down and be replaced by a civilian government.
With the largely peaceful protests gaining momentum, al-Bashir declared a state of emergency in February 2019 and replaced the government with military and intelligence officers in a Transitional Military Council (TMC).
On April 11, the military staged a coup d’état and removed al-Bashir from power.
But that wasn’t enough. The people of Sudan had had enough of the 50 years of famine, repression, and dictatorship.
But that wasn’t enough. An association of professionals, which had led the charge for reform, called on the military to step down and put in place a civilian-led transitional government. Meanwhile, peaceful protests continued in a sit-in in Khartoum and negotiations for a joint transition government ensued. The people of Sudan had had enough of the 50 years of famine, repression, and dictatorship.
But on June 3, events took a violent turn. Security and paramilitary forces sent by ordered by General Mohammed Hamdan went on a bloody rampage, dispersing the sit-ins, killing 128 people, raping 70 women, and injuring countless others.The premeditated massacre subdued the spirit of the protesters and the cities went quiet.
Beaten up but undeterred, some Sudanese activists turned to art to pursue their fight for freedom. Assil Diab, a 30-year-old street artist, is now showing the world through her art what is happening in Sudan, using a color inspired by Mohamed Hashim Mattar, a young 26-year-old British-Sudanese engineer murdered during the violent breakup of the sit-in.
Mattar’s social media profile photo was a deep turquoise blue. To honor his life and others’ lives lost during the sit-in, his friends colored their profile photos blue too, inspiring the viral #BlueForSudan hashtag. Diab is using this same blue to symbolize the Sudanese uprising.
Other Sudanese artists plan to reveal the world’s largest protest banner, 1.9 miles long, to be displayed outside the military headquarters. The banner will show a series of paintings by hundreds of local artists, portraits of fallen activists, and signatures of thousands of protesters.
Painter Galal Yousif has produced murals of protestors “screaming” for change; one pays homage to the more than 70 women who were raped during the June 3rd crackdown.
On June 30, in an astonishing act of defiance, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese participated in the largest pro-democracy rally ever. Two weeks later, on July 17, the military council and the protesters signed an agreement to share power in a civilian government.
Art, especially visual art, is broadcasting the Sudanese uprising to the world, even as Internet shutdowns hinder the message. While the future is uncertain and obstacles remain, the people of Sudan have hope that their fight for democracy will succeed even as so many Arab revolutions have failed.