Shifting Sands: Babanusa to Abyei


I have curated an exhibition of Ian Cunnison’s ethnographic photographs from Abyei and Kordofan. The exhibition, Shifting Sands, was displayed at the Oriental Museum in Durham from April-October 2014.

Exhibition description
Shifting Sands is an exhibition of rare and beautiful photographs from Sudan taken by the anthropologist Ian Cunnison. It tells a story of migration, everyday lives and inter-ethnic relationships in late colonial Sudan, as well as offering a vivid glimpse of how anthropological knowledge is gained.

From 1952 to 1955 Cunnison conducted ethnographic research on the Misseriya-Humr, cattle-keeping pastoralists whose annual search for water takes them from the edges of the desert in Kordofan to the lush pastures of Abyei, where Dinka people grow crops and graze their own cattle. Today, Abyei is on border between Sudan and South Sudan; claimed by both states, its future is uncertain.

These images chronicle Cunnison’s growing understanding of Misseriya culture and throw light on the daily life of a pastoralist community in Sudan at the end of British Imperialism. Through portraits and brief biographies of the people Cunnison got to know, this exhibition explores relationships – both within the camp and between members of this camp and Dinka communities in Abyei in the 1950s. Shifting Sands tells many stories: one of slavery and disrupted relationships, but also of interdependence, political negotiation and intermarriage between these two communities. It illustrates a complex history of coercion and cooperation in Sudan and South Sudan’s now bitterly contested borderlands.

I have written two blogs about the exhibition. One at the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture at Durham University (who funded the exhibition). The other at Focus on the Horn.

Work on an online version of the exhibition is underway. Please contact me for any more information.



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