Alternative Museum of the Sudan

Amado Alfadni curated by Najlaa EL Angeli

Amado Alfadni is an artist who was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1976 to Sudanese parents. His childhood environment was composed of both the Cairene street and the traditions of a Sudanese household. The relationship and the tension between these two different cultures strongly influenced his views, making him question the subject of identity with its related rhetoric, as well as the variables of nation and ethnicity in his work.


Fearlessly through his art Amado engages with forgotten historical chapters that are difficult to digest, as he then references them with the current state of things. Based on his dedicated and passionate study with documentation, he delves into sore and sensitive passages of time that have been ignored, to make a credible case for those who thus far have not been heard, nor given a platform to speak of their anguish, pain, hurt and trauma, to understand the dotted lines left behind.


The ‘Alternative Museum of the Sudan’ is Amado’s first solo exhibition in London, that traces the findings of his five-year journey and research into the buried histories of the people of the Sudan who were badly affected by colonialism and other interruptive external forces. His multimedia works revive the local stories and reflect upon the fate of his Sudanese ancestors, revealing an incomprehensible exploitation of the African people, from the earliest times up to the present.


The show also draws upon the artist’s interest in the notion of authenticity when an identity has come into contact with a colonial factor and or an aggressive power subjugation. He utilizes postcards, photographs, and oral archives to reveal some of the complex relationships that have ensued from the interplay between colonial dominance and how that has affected Black Africa as well as the intermingled histories of the people living in the unique geographical zone of where the Sudan meets Egypt and North Africa.


The ‘Alternative Museum of the Sudan Postcards’ project will serve as a repository of the material constructed in tribute to Amado’s subjects, such as the Bint El Sudan installation. Shedding light on the history of the popular Sudanese perfume that has been made and sold for decades and is still on the market, it draws parallels between the past and the present through the changing image of ‘a Sudanese Princess’ as we follow her visual transformation through the marketing labels over time, revealing how the female Sudanese figure has been manipulated through the masculine glare.


Amado’s Kandaka or ‘Queen’ series also investigates the portrayal of the Sudanese woman, but this time through the Western-colonial gaze as evidenced by the old colonial postcards that are still in circulation today. This has recently opened up huge academic and artistic discourse with the dilemma of how we should be treating these photographs, as we now question the conditions under which these women were made to model for the mainly European cameraman.


On display also will be the ‘Askari Soldiers’ series, the ‘Ace of Spades’ and ‘Black Ivory’, in which Amado deconstructs the wider colonial narrative and its treatment of the Sudanese, as he disseminates the work by re-appropriating it to contextualize his own representation. In effect, he is offering the safe space to offer the dignity and acknowledgement of the men we now see, bringing up the feeling of respect in the viewer, and to ask questions and seek some answers.


In ‘Black Ivory’, for example, Amado investigates a recorded voice in the Sudanese Shilluk language of one of the thousands of kidnapped survivors who were forced to transport ivory from Sudan to Egypt. The recording tells of how he was later sold as a soldier by Britain to France to fight in colonial Mexico. Used as a ‘re-appropriated’ historical device, it restores the non-sequential energy of a lived historical memory, a fundamental component of meaning in representation. It also rescues the real narrative of those who have left behind no documents nor records, indicating that history can only ever be fragmentary and chopped up, made up of dissonance and that it is always provisional.


While in ‘Ace of Spades’, Amado opens archive material connected to the slave soldiers trade, using iconic photos which he has manipulated with motifs that raise and answer questions about the Sudan and other colonised African countries. By producing monoprints, he adds the ‘Tazeker Alhuryaa’ or ‘Freedom tickets’ that were given to those who were enslaved in Egypt to indicate the end of their slavery. As he states: “This is lifelong work digging into generations of hidden history buried under colonialist culture that persists to this day.”


Through his installations, Amado delves into the complexities of culture and identity in the aftermath of colonial presence, with a critical yet aesthetic eye that results in incredibly captivating artwork. In particular, he questions the British and Egyptian colonial stay and intervention in Sudan, beginning with the time of Queen Victoria, followed by King Farouk of Egypt.


The artist has said that his work was essentially based on two elements: the Askari archived colonial photos and uniforms, and the patterned language of African textiles that first emerged in African culture through the use of the Dutch wax prints. These printed fabrics, at first based on Dutch-inspired designs, were quickly adapted by African women who turned them into local apparel. They in fact became a method of communication and self-expression, as they integrated colors, shapes, and visual elements with shared and intended meanings. Following that same tradition, the artist created his own Dutch prints and used them as a medium to convey his ideas.


Amado has stated: “My work discusses the relationship between the included and excluded and opens dialogue on issues of identity and politics. By working with forgotten historical events and current state policies, I raise questions of power dynamics between the individual and authority on the social and political level. It gives a voice to the marginalized minorities.”