Saturday, 30 November 2013

Land of Cush Exhibition, Dubrovnik

War Photo Limited is an exceptional gallery in Dubrovnik, focused on educating the public about the horrors of war through photography. Despite being most famous for its images of the Croatian Civil War, I was engrossed by the 'Land of Cush' exhibition.

Exhibited as a celebration of the first anniversary of South Sudan's independence, Cedric Gerbehaye's photos reveal the abhorrent consequences of Africa's longest civil war, and represent the birth of a new nation. Having previously known very little about the conflict in Sudan, I was, perhaps ignorantly, shocked to learn that there have been very few periods of peace in the country since 1955.  However, it was no surprise to discover that the 2012 conflict (the Heglig Crisis) was a fight over an oil-rich border.

Gerbehaye's photography is a product of the Khartoum regime responsible for the most frightful destruction of South Sudan. Until very recently, 'humanitarian disaster, war crime, crime against humanity and ethnic cleansing' dominated South Sudanese society - creating an environment where constant 'air raids, land battles, mortar fires, massacre and sexual violence' formulated a horrifying reality. Gerbehaye's images powerfully exhibit this, creating a picture of a victimised society against the backdrop of a spectral, bleak environment.

I left this exhibition feeling, in a word, empty. I was both disconcerted that I had been oblivious to this conflict, and completely overwhelmed by its new-found publicity - to me, at least! I wanted to know more about Sudan and the hidden conflict beyond Western influence. In this respect, Gerbehaye has been successful in conjuring interest in Sudanese culture and politics, and exposing the appalling nature of the war. Nevertheless, whilst the images are chilling, they seem to be enveloped with a simmering sense of relief - a final celebration of independence.

But, Gerbehaye leaves us with a daunting prediction. 'A new war will surely spill across borders quickly, given the stakes: oil resources - 80% of which are located in the south, access to the Nile, agricultural land and religious rivalry between Christianity and Islam'. 

Is Gerbehaye really celebrating, or simply exposing a vulnerable region which he anticipates to become ever more susceptible in the future? 


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