My father was a painter and printmaker, so I grew up around art. After a long hiatus without drawing, I started again when I was in South Sudan in 2015.
It was a good way to cope with the boredom of curfew hours. It also helped me articulate differently some of the information that I was collecting.
I started with drawings and water color in South Sudan. When I moved to Bloomington, I turned to linocut. It helped me illustrate and externalize the violence of the testimonies I had gathered, which was clearly at odds with this quiet little town in the middle of America. Later, I audited an intaglio class at Indiana University with the wonderful Tracy Templeton. That’s when I started etching.
I am sharing here some of my paintings and prints. All of them are inspired by my field observations and/or by testimonies I collected in South Sudan and Uganda’s refugee camps. Each illustration has a matching testimony.
Even if the illustrations look cartoonish, they are inspired by true events and the testimonies are real. The stories they tell are also very real. They are often violent. These prints are the result of my own regurgitation of things that could not be photographed, but I believe still need representation.
“In Ding-Ding, 6 people were hung up the tree in May 2015 by the Bul Nuer and they killed the owner of the luak by turning his neck. The people hung up the tree were women and men.” (60 year old man from Ding-Ding, Rubkona county 2016)
“The SPLA did the same to the neighbors, all the women. They were all raped. Three people raped me. My daughter of 15 years old was raped as well by one person. They took five hours to rape us. Other women were taken to the bush so I did not see them. One of them was raped by five people, another by three people. They were all raped. There was no one who was not raped… I stayed quiet during the rape, because I feared they would kill me.” (35 year old displaced woman from Ronyi village, Yei county 2017)
“Among the 100 soldiers, some remained in the vehicles, others came out to rape us, while the rest waited for them to be done raping us. After that they all left. They took my belongings. I was raped when I was pregnant, but the fetus came out. I was one month pregnant. All the husbands were killed. I told them I was pregnant, but they said I was deceiving them. All of my clothes were removed, I was left naked. They used the clothes to clean themselves, and after that they left the clothes to me.”(25 year old displaced woman from Gimunu, Yei county 2017)
“I saw my husband being killed with a knife in front of me. (She starts crying). They came with many soldiers, up to 100, Dinka. Five raped me. My husband was killed before I was raped, three other husbands were killed. The rape lasted for two hours. Six women in total were raped. They didn’t talk, they did it silently. Each and every women were divided for soldiers.” (25 year old displaced woman from Gimunu, Yei county 2017)
“For the old ladies, they rape them and let them to die or hang them from the tukuls.” (40 year old displaced woman from Koch county 2015)
In the reception center, on the afternoon of 19 June 2017, I hear and see a man in his 50s who got here four days ago suddenly break into loud cries. He just learned over the phone that Dinka SPLA soldiers burned his mother, father, wife and one child, in their house back in Yei county, South Sudan (Central Equatoria state). He is having a nervous breakdown. Everyone stops. It is rare for a South Sudanese man to be seen having a meltdown in public. (Author observations in Imvepi Reception Center, Uganda 2017)
“They put me in a container for the whole time. For the first 3 days, no water. Other people were with me – 22 people total in a 20 feet container, under the sun. They cut out the trees that cover the container. Other people died in the container – 5 of them. It happened in June. At night they go and collect you and take you for beating and torturing.” (Member of civil society 1)
“The biggest guns from Juba in December 2013, when I climbed over the fence in Tongping, I had never heard them before. In Juba alone I lost 10 relatives. Two were my brothers from different mothers, one was my nephew, two were my brother-in-laws to my sisters and uncles, plus the in-laws. They were killed in Gudele, in the same house. They were 12 in that same house. There were others who were suffocated in Gudele area in a container where they locked them in. In this family, 3 survived and they were taken to Australia. Afterwards, 2 days later, I managed to go to the UN camp. We were sleeping on the floor and there were no mattresses and even getting water was a problem- some used the sewage for bathing.” (Member of civil society 10)
“What happens most is “silent killing”… The silent killing is done using pangas and knives. They slice the throats. They shoot when IO and the SPLA meet. But slaughtering is done silently.” (Two members of civil society 5)
“When I met the soldiers, when my husband was killed, they were 10 soldiers, Dinka… they were wearing uniforms for some of them – but others were not wearing uniforms. They killed my husband first by slaughtering him. They stabbed him in the neck with a knife – not with a panga (machete). They killed him when we were together, and they said if I cried too, they would kill me. So I kept quiet… I was raped by four men after they killed my husband. The children were there and saw it…Four were raping me, and six were with the children. They said if the children cried, they would also kill them. All of this happened in silence.” (30 year old displaced woman from Kupera village, Yei county 2017)
“In Yei, when they occupy your house, or land, they say “you bring a bucket full of human blood so we can give your land back.” They say “we fought for the independence of South Sudan and it’s our right to stay here.” (Member of Civil Society 3)