Ola Hassanain

HKU, Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht

Back and Forth: Gender politics and Space in Khartoum

What influence does gender have on an artist’s production of fine and modern art in today’s Khartoum? Does gender embody everyday life experiences and influence every female artist’s work? Is theory of feminism even equipped to tackle policies in Khartoum that target women’s use of space? The project “Back and Forth” begins by trying to understand the term “gender” in the context of Khartoum under specific political conditions.

There is little articulation of “gender” in local platforms of academic theory that is specific to Sudan, outside the framework of NGO publications that deal with “statistics and gender indicators”. On other hand, these platforms direct international western theory and ideals as standards to guide the delivery of Sudanese theory in gender, as the universality cast of feminism in Sudan. In an attempt to pledge against that, one had to replay her own experiences as a woman in Khartoum as well as observing women in her surroundings. One could say that theories about gender and feminism conformed to the requirement of representational politics, as a result of feminism’s need for a stable subject in order to articulate gender. That in itself, deems theories of gender and feminism an inadequate tool to understand how Sudanese women in Khartoum articulate their world. Taking this line of questioning that there is a form of centre to where all this stable claim of knowledge regarding women comes about. There should therefore, be as many centres as there are women to generate such information that is competent with women’s differences. In a sense there are. But political and theoretical pressures agree to particular outward look to some differences. The artwork begins to question the compatibility of feminism and gender theory with the current state of women in Khartoum. The shortcomings of gender theory and feminism indirectly implies that the element of geographical location can play a role in the incompatibility of these theories. Which conceptually speaking, could also suggest that space/place specificity directly informs the women subject in gender theory.

The idea of a link between a woman/gender, political constructs of laws and the space in which all three come together, would be ground for artistic articulation of gender in Khartoum. This would be a point of entry for a project approach that currently operates in a semi-autonomous space in form of artistic research but, now, has information from specific sources, i.e. Khartoum public laws affecting women, women in Khartoum and public space of Khartoum itself. The project would lead a production of artistic material that is free of pre-set representations and assumptions about gender in the Khartoum’s political construct. It is predicted that it would take the information from specific conditions and try to articulate through recursive methods. The precedence given to the interactive link between being in the public domain and political agenda suggest the perception of the subjects in these specific conditions of themselves and how the space around forms an orientation of that perception. It also leads one to understand the perception of them from within the community, which gives points of reference to that orientation towards them, which is necessary to put forward and explore through the artwork. Leaning on Sara Ahmed’s concept of emotion as a political tool4The act of public law policing is an act that capitalises on a prediction and a quite sophisticated understanding of the position of women in the culture and so the act can actually predict the type of emotion this situation would trigger to help it push for its agenda. The project tries  to understand the mechanism by which these emotions affect the space, how the women begin to perceive space and also how they manage to utilise it to resist, avoid or reshape these confrontations. These moments are artistically and theoretically cultivated to link women up with the extension of society rather than have the experience isolate them. This allows for the project to also imply a potential for solidarity that is not under an idea of universality, it acknowledges “woman” in its different narratives.

One would only perceive feminism and gender knowledge discourses in an academic context, as far as one deems them relevant from a point of reference or orientation that one can identify with. By being in the Netherlands -thus outside the parameters of multitude of elements that construct space in Khartoum- allows one to also construct themselves as a centre of epistemological geography. The position from a woman artist produces art, hence, matters and makes it necessary for the gender oriented researcher to situate the artwork in international artistic discourses. The artist adopts a method of ethnographic phenomenological visual research, in which the subject/woman becomes the sole source of information. The method presents a dialectic image materialization of the women’s accounts during recorded discussions. The art work – much like a dialectic image – challenges the notion that meaning in history, politics and laws presents “progress” and “ethics”. The artwork assembles a collection of interviews, discussions, animations and “political corners” (political discussion corners in University of Khartoum) to create a space of conflict in dialogue. The display of videos reconfigures a space that responds to the public laws deployed on women.