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The art of conflict resolution in Sudan

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The art of conflict resolution in Sudan

Khalid Kodi’s participatory art projects in his native Sudan and South Sudan aim to bring rival groups together, resolve conflicts and look to a better future. The Northeastern University professor is a mentor to many young Sudanese artists and activists.

group of Sudanese people

Nine years ago, Khalid Kodi returned to his native Sudan to hold an art workshop in a war zone. Rebels in the Nuba Mountains, near Sudan’s southern border, were fighting for religious freedom and autonomy from Sudan’s central government, which responded by bombarding the region. But Kodi, now a Northeastern University art professor, thought the Nuba Mountains were the right place for his projects that invite people to create art.

Khalid Kodi, professor of the practice in College of Arts, Media and Design. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Teaching in a war zone was “risky, but it’s life-changing and it’s rewarding,” recalls Kodi, who learned the locations of foxholes in case bombers flew over. “It’s [about] how people in this stressful condition can relate to visual creation, and what art can do for them in helping them to overcome the stress and trauma.”

Every summer since 2014, Kodi has traveled from Boston to Sudan to hold workshops for artists, as well as his Flags and Banners as Voices project, which encourages women and children, refugees and religious leaders to collaborate on artworks that express their opinions about their nation’s future.

This summer, Kodi will skip his usual trip to Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, if the fighting that erupted there in April is still raging. He’ll start in Juba, the capital of independent South Sudan, where he holds annual workshops with local artists. From there, he’ll travel north into the Nuba Mountains region—now autonomous—to hold his flags and banners project again. One of Kodi’s main goals is to get people from different ethnic groups or different religious groups to work together. Another is to teach conflict resolution and leadership skills.

In Kodi’s 2022 visit to the Nuba Mountains, funded in part by a summer development grant from Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media and Design, Kodi held his flag and banners workshop in the town of Kauda. A 2019 cease-fire between the rebels and Sudan’s then-new interim government had freed Kauda’s residents to think more about a better future.

The participants—mostly women, children, and disabled people from different religions and ethnicities—produced colorful banners, working with shiny cloth cut into shapes and sewn onto a fabric background. One bright yellow banner protested corruption in government and finance, showing a multi-colored train running up against obstructions on the tracks toward a blue sign labeled, “Prosperity Station.” Another banner, labeled “How to eradicate poverty in Africa,” included warm-colored cloth symbols of a tractor, a school and a factory. The participants presented their banners in a final show in the town square, which attracted 500 people.

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