Life and Death
July 10 – September 13, 2014
These portraits represent a body of work created in South Sudan- the world’s youngest nation, now teetering on the brink of failed statehood. I have lived with and documented the major ethnic groups of South Sudan, traveling into all areas of this vast country, which is roughly 1/3 the size of Western Europe.
South Sudan, and its social and political structures are complex. The Dinka and Nuer represent the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan. Political power has been largely consolidated by the Dinka since the nineteenth century and British colonial rule of The Sudan.
There have been tensions between these two groups for over 100 years. In opposing colonial rule, the Nuer made enemies of the Dinka. In 1991, during the struggle for independence from the North, Dr. Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon- a Nuer, fell out with then leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, Dr. John Garang- a Dinka, forming a new militia which was secretly supported by Khartoum. Machar and Garang signed a peace agreement in 2002, with Machar returning to the SPLA fold.
After Garang’s death in 2005, Salva Kiir Mayardit- a Dinka, was named head of the SPLM/A, eventually becoming President of the new nation, with Machar as his Vice President. In late 2013, Kiir accused Machar of an attempted coup de’tat. Machar accused Kiir of corruption and an attempted dictatorship, and fled into the bush of the traditional Nuer homeland, summoning the infamous “White Army” to wage rebellion.
The portraits of the Dinka were created in Yirol, in early 2011, just before South Sudan achieved independence from the North. In the run up to independence, there was a sense of triumph and unity- even ecstasy, throughout South Sudan. After two decades of civil war with the North, and infighting between ethic groups and clans in the South, it seemed peace had finally come. The power had been consolidated within the Dinka ethic group, and despite the excitement of Independence, the smoulderings of ethnic tensions remained. This erupted in December of 2013 as the events unfolded in Juba.
The portraits of the Nuer “White Army” were created in February, 2014, as I joined them in a major campaign on the strategically key oil port of Malakal, in an attempt to wrest power from the Dinka. The White Army is an organic collection of armed Nuer civilian militias, with no central command structure and a mythos of prophecy. Machar summoned this in an attempt to seize power, and had effectively taken control of the oil rich regions of South Sudan by April of 2014.
I have witnessed the humanity of the peoples of South Sudan, and have been deeply moved by it. The current events sadden me greatly and remind me of my inability to fully comprehend the complexity of these ancient social relationships, no matter how close I ever get. It’s easy for many to express compassion, empathy, outrage or even pity for the citizens of South Sudan. I will remain on the fringe, at times suddenly thrust into the middle of it, and do the best I can to capture some of that humanity visually.
It remains to be seen if peace and stability and prosperity can come to the beleaguered citizens- nearly one million displaced, of the world’s newest sovereign state, South Sudan.
– Tim Freccia