Two Sudanese brothers have been creating unique portraits of protesters killed in the brutal military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, then offering these portraits to their grieving family members as gifts. The brothers use hundreds of photos of each victim to create two-metre-high mosaics to honour the young people who they say “wrote the word of liberty with their blood and souls”.
Twin brothers Mirghani and Osman Mohamed Salih are both independent artists. In January 2019, they started making mosaics telling the story of the Sudanese Revolution. Recently, they have focused on creating giant portraits of the victims of the revolution, especially those who died in the Sudanese army's violent crackdown of the protests in June 2019. The brothers say they don’t have any political affiliation; they simply want to reassure the families of victims that their children didn’t die for nothing.
Sudan has been in turmoil since December 2018 when people first took to the streets calling for democratic rule. In April, the army led a coup d’état that ousted president Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for more than three decades. The people, however, were not happy with military rule and protests continued. There was a violent military crackdown on demonstrations and, in early June 2019, more than 100 people were killed in three days.
From defiant female protesters to celebrating the end of Bashir's rule
Mirghani Mohamed Salih has been living in the United Arab Emirates for the past few years. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers how this project started.
As an expat, it was really hard for me to feel like I was part of the movement of young people in my country who have been leading the revolution since 2018. I turned to art to contribute in my own way to this revolution that brought down al-Bashir’s regime.
Our very first mosaic honoured the 'Kendakat', the women who lead protest marches reciting poems and singing hymns and sometimes even throwing tear gas canisters back at the police.
Then, in February, my brother Osman and I gathered photos of women protesters with their fists in the air or injured, and turned them into a portrait of 'Habbouba', a character from Sudanese folklore who represents the Sudanese mother or grandmother who has worked tirelessly her whole life.
"All of the victim’s friends and family members help make the portrait"
Ahmad Abou Al-Alaa, who got to know the brothers during a sit-in in December 2018, is the third member of the team. Most of the time, Abou Al-Alaa is the one who gathers photos from the friends and family of the victims.
It was my job to go seek out the family members of the victims. I would often meet them at their homes, which was very painful. It’s incredibly hard to remind a mother about the death of her child. That brings up a lot of pain. Some families are still struggling with grief. I never insist. Sometimes, I leave and come back much later.
At first, the families didn’t really understand the point of these portraits. But there's a network of victims' mothers who all know each other through online groups, and through that more families saw our work and that convinced them to take part.
I ask the families for joyful photos of the victim: pictures from childhood, photos from the revolution or happy moments shared with friends and family. In that way, all the victim’s loved ones help to make up the mosaic portrait.
The process can take weeks. We ask the families for at least 100 photos in order to make a high resolution image. Then we copy the photos 2000-5000 times and put them together in the program Turbomosaic to make a giant mosaic.
Mirghani and his friends plan to put together the portraits of more than 250 victims to give to their family members.
The aim of our portraits is for the families to hold on to a beautiful image of their children. I was really shocked and upset by one case in particular: a young man named Koussay, whose body was found in the river, where it had swelled up and turned blue. It was horrible for his family. We hope that our portrait helps his family to instead remember his handsome face, young and full of life. Each photo in the mosaic can help his family relive the happy memories that they have of Koussay.
Video by Osam and Mirghani Mohamed Salih
The two brothers also want to start making portraits for families who live outside of the capital Khartoum. They say they want to meet these families, to “see the joy and the emotion in their eyes”. They also hope that their portraits will help those trying to establish transitional justice.
On Tuesday [November 26, 2019] families of the victims protested because a law court decided not to proceed with an investigation into Mohamed Hamdan Daglo’s Rapid Support Forces, who were involved in the massacre that took place on June 3. We haven’t forgotten Hemeti [Editor’s note: the nickname given to General Daglo]. I made a portrait of him using photos of the victims to show that their blood is on his hands.
Some viewers may find certain images in this video shocking. (Video by Osam and Mirghani Mohamed Salih)
In total, 108 protesters were killed and 700 were wounded during the crackdown on June 3, 2019.